WORLD
27/03/2018 11:07 PM AEDT | Updated 28/03/2018 1:12 PM AEDT

Shadow Cabinet Members 'Visibly Upset' At Meeting Over Jeremy Corbyn Anti-Semitism Storm

Emotions ran high following Parliament Square protest.

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Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn

Members of Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow cabinet were “visibly upset” during a discussion of Labour’s problems with anti-Semitism, as the author of a probe into Jew-hate said Ken Livingstone had “continued to let the party down”.

In an at times emotional hour-long session, the senior frontbenchers agreed that they must take collective responsibility for the issue, with some arguing members of the party’s ruling NEC had failed to grasp its importance.

 Some insiders expressed frustration that the agenda for the pre-planned meeting was not amended to include time for discussion of allegations which led to a protest on Monday, organised by the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Jewish Leadership Council (JLC).

The two Jewish groups had claimed the Labour leader had sided with anti-Semites “again and again”. At the Parliament Square demo, Labour MP Wes Streeting urged the party to “drain the cesspit” and take tougher action.

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Shami Chakrabarti

But Corbyn’s supporters said he had actively raised the issue at the Shadow Cabinet meeting and opened it for a debate in which all shadow cabinet members took part.

They said that the Labour leader’s usual practice was to raise important topical issues during his opening remarks, and then allow a discussion, rather than wait for ‘any other business’ at the end of the meeting.

The strained meeting came on another difficult day for the party, with senior Labour MPs writing to Corbyn to urge him to take action to tackle the “poison in our ranks”.

Meanwhile, Labour MPs who attended a rally against anti-Semitism within their party say they have been “bullied and intimidated” for standing up for Jewish members.

HuffPost UK has learned shadow Attorney General Shami Chakrabarti, who was commissioned to produce a report on anti-semitism within the party in 2016, was “on the verge of tears” during the discussion. But she was later “applauded for her work”.

“Shami said she has been accused of being a corrupt, anti-Semitic whitewasher, and was disappointed her report had not been implemented and that [Ken] Livingstone continued to let the party down,” an insider said.

The former London Mayor was indefinitely suspended from the party last month pending a new investigation into remarks he made last year linking Zionism with Hitler.

Shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer, who was said to have pushed for a full discussion on the problem, told the meeting on Tuesday morning that all frontbenchers must take responsibility.

“There was a general tone of shock and depression, and a number of members were visibly upset,” a source added.

“Jeremy Corbyn tried to gloss over the issue, but discussion was forced by Starmer, with several other members raising issues in their own patches.”

HuffPost UK
The agenda for Tuesday's shadow cabinet meeting

A source close to the Labour leader vehemently denied he had tried to gloss over the issue. They said he had in fact raised the issue in his opening remarks - before Starmer spoke - and that it was always the plan for it to be discussed. 

“It was a positive meeting.  People were emotional because they were sharing their own stories and experiences,” they added.

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell blamed internal party processes for a lack of action, while other Corbyn allies directed anger towards “disloyal” fellow Labour MPs.

HuffPost UK understands Corbyn was also called upon to “deal with” actions of his supporters on the NEC who were accused of blocking some anti-Semitism expulsions.

The Labour leader is also believed to have raised the possibility of toughening up social media regulation and underlined the themes of his letter to Jewish groups pledging a faster investigation process.

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Monday's protest in Parliament Square

Shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer, who was said to have pushed for a full discussion on the problem, told the meeting on Tuesday morning that all frontbenchers must take responsibility.

“There was a general tone of shock and depression, and a number of members were visibly upset,” a source said.

Tensions were sparked after Corbyn became embroiled in a row over a 2012 Facebook comment, in which he questioned why a mural - which he later accepted was anti-Semitic - was to be removed.

The Labour leader said he was “sincerely sorry” for any pain caused to the Jewish community and declared that left-wing anti-Semitism is “the socialism of fools” in a letter to Jewish groups on Monday.

He vowed to fast-track a Labour programme of anti-racism education to root out the problem, and said he was a “militant opponent of anti-Semitism”.

Sources said the shadow cabinet showed “unanimous support” for the letter and action taken. 

Elsewhere, the co-chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on British Jews and the chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group against Antisemitism have written to Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to urge him to take action to tackle the “poison in our ranks”.

Posting a copy of the letter on Twitter, Labour MP Wes Streeting said: “@jeremycorbyn’s statement on Monday has not been heeded by all those claiming to support him. @JohnMannMP and I have written about the abuse that’s taken place in the last 48 hours and the action that’s needed.”

The letter warns that there must be a “turning point for our Party on antisemitism”, and says Mr Corbyn should meet with Jewish colleagues and “send a message of solidarity” to all Jewish members demanding that social media abuse against them ends.

Meanwhile, more than 40 MPs and peers, including Stella Creasy, Wes Streeting and Luciana Berger, have signed an open letter to Corbyn-supporting website The Skwawkbox after its editor demanded they provide examples of occasions on which they had stood up to other forms of racism, including Islamophobia.