Labour MPs Give Raw Accounts of Facing Threats, Abuse, as British Parliament Debates Antisemitism
A non-Jewish member of the British Parliament from the opposition Labour Party spoke on Tuesday in blunt detail about the antisemitic threats received by his wife and children, as the House of Commons engaged in a general debate on antisemitism that placed new pressure on Labour’s left-wing leader, Jeremy Corbyn, to act against anti-Jewish invective inside the party.
John Mann — the Labour MP who chairs the all-party parliamentary group on antisemitism — revealed that he had never expected his prominent role in combating antisemitic prejudice toward British Jews would lead to the harassment of his own family.
“I didn’t expect, when I took on this voluntary cross-party role, for my wife to be sent by a Labour Marxist antisemite a dead bird through the post,” Mann told the assembled MPs. “I didn’t expect my son, after an Islamist death threat, to open the door in the house on his own — as a schoolboy — to the bomb squad.”
Following his attendance at the March 26 demonstration against antisemitism outside the British parliament, the harassment continued, Mann said.
“I didn’t expect my wife, in the last few weeks, from a leftist antisemite in response to the demonstration, to be threatened with rape,” the MP said. “I didn’t expect my daughter similarly, and have to be rung up in the last few weeks by Special Branch (the national security branch of the British police) to check out her movements in this country. No, I didn’t expect any of that.”
Other MPs who spoke during an often emotional and angry debate included Jewish Labour parliamentarians Luciana Berger, Ruth Smeeth and Margaret Hodge — all of whom spoke powerfully about being on the receiving end of torrents of antisemitic abuse, often from members of the Labour Party.
Berger, who represents a constituency in Liverpool, received a rare standing ovation in the chamber after a speech in which she detailed the abuse directed at her by Labour members and supporters.
“I was 19 when I received my first piece of hate mail,” Berger recalled. “It described me as a ‘dirty Zionist pig.’ And here starts my 18-year experience of contending with antisemitism.”
Berger said that she made “no apology for holding my own party to a higher standard.”
“Anti-racism is one of our central values and there was a time not long ago when the left actively confronted antisemitism,” she said. Echoing the connection which many American Jews feel toward the civil rights movement in the US, Berger said that “the work that the previous Labour government did to move the equality goalposts in this country was one of the reasons I joined the Labour party.”
Berger added that it “pains me to say…in 2018, within the Labour party, antisemitism is now more commonplace, it is more conspicuous and it is more corrosive.”
Smeeth shared some of the antisemitic abuse she had received with her colleagues, including one message that said, “Hang yourself you vile treacherous Zionist Tory filth, you’re a cancer of humanity.”
In a pointed nod to Corbyn and the Labour Party, Smeeth added, “What is so heartbreaking is the concerted effort in some quarters to downplay the problem.”
“For every comment like those you’ve just heard, you can find ten people ready to dismiss it, to cry smear, to say that we are weaponizing antisemitism,” she said.
In her speech, Margaret Hodge spoke of the family members she had lost during the Nazi Holocaust before confessing that she had “never felt as nervous and frightened as I feel today at being a Jew.”
“It feels that my party has given permission for antisemitism to go unchallenged,” Hodge said. “Antisemitism is making me an outsider in my Labour party. To that, I simply say enough is enough.”
Scheduled by the ruling Conservative Party, Tuesday’s debate was opened by Communities Minister Sajid Javid, who told Corbyn “it won’t perhaps be the most comfortable three hours … that he has sat in on.”
“There has frankly been a deeply worrying lack of leadership or moral clarity on this issue from him,” Javid told parliament. “We cannot and we must not ignore the particular concern with elements within the Labour Party, nor can we ignore the fact that this increasing concern has correlated with the current leader of the opposition and the wave of activists that have come with him.”
Several parliamentarians used the debate to renew calls on Corbyn to expel his political ally, the former Mayor of London Ken Livingstone, from the Labour Party over the latter’s repeated smear that Adolf Hitler was a supporter of Zionism “before he went mad.”
Labour MP Ian Austin was applauded after he called for Livingstone to be “booted out” of the party during the debate.
Corbyn did not speak during the debate and exited the chamber at the conclusion of Berger’s speech.
Earlier on Tuesday, the two leading British Jewish representative organizations confirmed that they would not attend an upcoming roundtable on antisemitism convened by Corbyn after learning that a fringe anti-Zionist group would also be participating.
A joint statement from the Board of Deputies and the Jewish Leadership Council said they were already attending a meeting with Corbyn on Tuesday next week and saw “no need” to attend the roundtable the day after.
“After we have had our meeting with Mr Corbyn on April 24, we will see whether he and the Labour Party have committed to the action we need against antisemitism,” the statement said.
Other Jewish community groups will now have to decide whether to participate in the meeting with Corbyn alongside “Jewish Voice for Labour,” a far-left group that describes accusations of Labour Party antisemitism as a “smear” to undermine Corbyn’s leadership.
Watch John Mann MP’s impassioned contribution to the British parliamentary debate on antisemitism: