Corbyn rejects claims Labour is 'nasty party' amid conference anti-Semitism row

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The Labour Party is to adopt new anti-Semitism rules after a string of damaging allegations at conference

Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Corbyn listens to speeches at the Labour Party Conference in Brighton on Tuesday (Reuters)
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Tuesday 26 September 2017 16:01 UTC
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Jeremy Corbyn has been forced to reject accusations that Labour has become a “nasty party” after a string of accusations of anti-Semitism at the party’s annual conference in Brighton.

In a string of broadcast interviews on Tuesday afternoon the British Labour leader insisted that the use of anti-Semitic language is “completely at odds” with the values of the Labour Party.

The row threatens to overshadow a move by the party to adopt new rules to tackle anti-Semitism.

The rule change, which is expected to pass comfortably on Tuesday afternoon, was proposed by the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) and backed by Corbyn. It tightens the party’s stance towards members who are anti-semitic, racist, Islamophobic, sexist or homophobic.

Thought crime

Some activists have accused the party of policing "thought crime", but Momentum, the grassroots leftwing group that has been key to Corbyn's rise to the top of the Labour Party, urged its members to vote in favour of the motion. 

But Corbyn was forced to combat accusations of anti-Semitism within the party amid complaints of anti-Semitic language at a meeting on the fringe of conference on Monday and the use of an “anti-Semitic trope” in the main conference hall on Tuesday.

"This is not a nasty party," Corbyn told Channel 4 News. "This is the biggest Labour conference we have had for many, many years.

"Nobody should be abused, whoever they are. We have just passed a motion on racism and anti-Semitism which is comprehensive and inclusive and is supported by all wings of the party and unanimously agreed by our national executive.

"Anyone using anti-Semitic language, anyone using any form of racist language, is completely at odds with the beliefs of this party."

Corbyn’s comments came after the JLM demanded the Labour Party take immediate action against member Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi, who it alleges “levelled an anti-Semitic trope” at the group on Tuesday.

She was applauded for saying the JLM would have “a bit more credibility” if it “didn’t spend so much of its time running to the Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph with stories.”

JLM chair Jeremy Newark later said her remarks accusing Jews of colluding with the right-wing media mounted to anti-Semitism. Speaking at a fringe event later on Tuesday, he said the group would be demanding immediate action from the party.

He said: "We're absolutely determined this can't be another issue that's allowed to drag on for months and months and months."

Wimborne-Idrissi also chaired a fringe event on Monday where allegedly anti-Semitic remarks were made. During the event, which was advertised in Labour’s official conference programme, Israeli-American author Miko Peled said: "This is about free speech, the freedom to criticise and to discuss every issue, whether it's the Holocaust: yes or no, Palestine, the liberation, the whole spectrum. There should be no limits on the discussion."

The Daily Mail reported he said: "It's about the limits of tolerance: we don't invite the Nazis and give them an hour to explain why they are right; we do not invite apartheid South Africa racists to explain why apartheid was good for the blacks, and in the same way we do not invite Zionists - it's a very similar kind of thing."

Elsewhere at the conference there have been calls for JLM, which is known for its staunch support of Israel, to be disaffiliated from the Labour Party and on Monday activists applauded panelists who likened supporters of Israel to Nazis.

Earlier on Tuesday, senior Labour MP Jonathan Ashworth had denounced the “disgusting” allegedly anti-Semitic remarks, while the UK’s equality watchdog urged the party leadership to take action over anti-semitism.

Zero tolerance approach

Rebecca Hilsenrath, chief executive of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said: “Anti-Semitism is racism and the Labour Party needs to do more to establish that it is not a racist party.

"A zero tolerance approach to anti-Semitism should mean just that.

"When senior party figures are saying there is a problem then the leadership should take swift action. It is not acceptable to simply say they oppose these views.

"These comments by party members show more needs to be done to root out anti-Semitic views that clearly exist in the party.

"Any suggestion of kicking people out of any political party on the grounds of race or religion should be condemned."