In a powerful speech during a debate about anti-Semitism in the British parliament on Tuesday, Labour MP John Mann said “Any Jewish person has the right to say…’I am a Zionist’ and I have no right to deny them that and those that do are racists.”
Mann observed that the word “Zionist” has become “a pejorative insult by the Labour Party” under leader Jeremey Corbyn, effectively denying Jews the right to their own homeland.
Mann said that explicit anti-Semitism was “constant”, while there was a bigger group of “excusers” who said the issue was being used to challenge Corbyn’s leadership. He added: “Five years ago Jewish people would come up to me and they’d say we’re concerned that there’s a rise in anti-Semitism. I’m stopped in the street everywhere I go now by Jewish people saying to me, very discreetly, I am scared.”
Despite facing growing criticism over anti-Semitism claims within the Labour Party, Corbyn did not speak during the debate and instead walked out of the chamber.
“Young people, old people. I am scared. You see what’s happened in France and you see what’s happened in Belgium and you see what happened in Copenhagen, and then you understand why people are scared,” Mann said.
The MP leads the All Party Parliamentary Group on anti-Semitism, a cross-party initiative in the British lower house to combat hatred against Jews. In his speech, Mann revealed that his wife and daughter had received rape threats from members of Momentum, a far-left activist group associated with Corbyn’s rise to power, for standing in solidarity with the Jewish community.
“I didn’t expect my wife, in the last few weeks from a leftist anti-Semite in response to the demonstration (against anti-Semitism in front of parliament), to be threatened with rape. I didn’t expect my daughter similarly, and have to be rung up in the last few weeks by special branch to check out her movements in this country.”
The three-hour debate saw a string of Labour MPs stand up to condemn Corbyn’s failure to tackle the problem.
Luciana Berger, a Jewish Labour MP, spoke of the abuse she had received at the hands of supporters of the party leader: “It is anti-Semitism of the worst kind; suggesting that I’m a traitor to our country, they have called me ‘Judas’, a ‘Zio-Nazi’, an ‘absolute parasite’, telling me to ‘get out of this country and to go back to Israel’.”
Ruth Smeeth, another Jewish Labour MP, broke down in tears after her colleague’s speech. Smeeth also detailed the abuse she had received. One message read: “Hang yourself you vile treacherous Zionist Tory filth, you’re a cancer of humanity.”
MPs on all sides broke with convention to give the pair standing ovations in parliament. Some MPs were reduced to tears by their harrowing stories.
Communities Secretary Sajid Javid said that Corbyn had “too many accidental associations” with anti-Semitism to list, including his meetings with Hamas, Hezbollah, Holocaust deniers, and Palestinian hate preachers. The minister told the chamber that “many” instances of anti-Israel sentiment were actually a “mask for racist sentiment.”
Conservative MP Robert Halfon said the UK was “still a wonderful place” for Jews to live in – but insisted “things have changed.. the air has got tighter.” He also called on parliament to “stamp out all extremist terror groups” like the Iranian-backed, Lebanese-based group Hezbollah. “People should not be allowed to march down the streets with Hezbollah flags,” he said.
Corbyn has come under extreme pressure to tackle anti-Semitism and will meet representatives of Jewish groups next week.
[Photo: Alex Wickham / YouTube]