Jeremy Corbyn tells Jews he is their 'ally' in anti-Semitism fight in Passover message

Jeremy Corbyn admitted Labour needs to 'do better' in tackling anti-Semitism. Credit: Labour
  • Video report: ITV News Political correspondent Emily Morgan

Jeremy Corbyn has told Jews he is their "ally" in the fight against anti-Semitism, in the wake of an ongoing row about the issue in the Labour party.

In a Passover message, the Labour leader said he hopes the religious holiday will mark a move towards closer relations with the Jewish community as he admitted his party needs to "do better" in the fight against anti-Semitism.

His message comes just hours after Labour MPs and peers signed an open letter to the 68-year-old urging him to suspend the former disputes panel chairwoman Christine Shawcroft from the party's ruling body amid an ongoing row over anti-Semitism in the party.

Shawcroft was forced to stand down from her position on the panel on Wednesday, after she sent an email calling for a council candidate accused of Holocaust denial to have his suspension lifted.And in a further development today, in a post on her Facebook page she claimed the anti-Semitism row is being "stirred up" to attack Jeremy Corbyn.

In a statement posted on Facebook, she said she was "not a Holocaust denier and I would not support a Holocaust denier," but insisted the "whole row is being stirred up to attack Jeremy, as we all know".

Christine Shawcroft's post claiming the issue of anti-Semitism has been Credit: Facebook/Christine Shawcroft

The post has now been replaced without the "stirred up" comment.

The Labour anti-Semitism row is longstanding, but surfaced again last week after a 2012 Facebook comment Corbyn made emerged in which he offered a show of support for Mear One, the painter of an allegedly anti-Semitic mural that was about to be painted over.

In his Passover message, Corbyn conceded that while it was easy to denounce anti-Semitism in other countries, it is "sometimes harder to see it when it is closer to home".

Despite attempts to draw a line under the issue, accusations that Jeremy Corbyn has not done enough to combat hatred against Jews have persisted.

A Jewish Labour peer, Lord Winston, said the party leader had "encouraged and endorsed" anti-Semites, adding hostility to Jews has "infected the Labour Party so it's become endemic".

Former prime minister Tony Blair said it has become an issue in the party because the leadership and its supporters do not really think it is a problem.

Former Labour PM Tony Blair has been critical of Corbyn's approach to the issue Credit: PA

He told BBC Radio 4's The Week In Westminster: "It's become a problem because I'm afraid the people around Jeremy Corbyn - maybe even he himself - I don't think they really think it is a problem.

"I think they think it's basically something that's got up by people who are opposed to him for all sorts of other reasons and are using anti-Semitism as the battering ram against his leadership.

"When this row first began - a couple of years ago it's really been going on now - I confess to you because I know the history of the Labour Party, I was sceptical about it.

"But the more I talk to Labour MPs and I talk to Labour members and Labour councillors, the more I realise, I'm afraid, it's real.

"It should have been dealt with before."

Labour MP Siobhain McDonagh, lead signatory of the letter calling for Ms Shawcroft to be removed from the National Executive Committee, told the BBC the group felt "very strongly" about the issue.

The missive, also signed by MPs including Mike Gapes and Luciana Berger, said it was "highly offensive to the Jewish community" that Ms Shawcroft remained a member of the NEC.

In the Passover message, he said Labour will "never be complacent" about the problem.

Mr Corbyn said: "Passover is a time to celebrate a journey from oppression to freedom.

"We remember all our Jewish brothers and sisters, who have battled against discrimination and faced the most horrific acts of violence and mass murder.

"This year marks 75 years since a group of Jewish partisans in Warsaw, on the first night of Passover, discovered that the Nazis intended to destroy their ghetto.

"They decided to stay and fight, holding out against the Nazi war machine for a month.

"We think also about rising levels of anti-Semitism around the world.

"In Poland, the government has passed laws making it illegal to acknowledge Polish complicity in the Holocaust. They have frozen the law that returns property looted by Nazis to Holocaust survivors.

"In France, the neo-fascist National Front is on the rise and just days ago 85-year-old Holocaust survivor Mirielle Knoll was brutally stabbed to death in an anti-Semitic attack. In the US too, we see the far-right extremists gathering support for their hateful ideology.

"It is easy to denounce anti-Semitism when you see it in other countries, in other political movements. It is sometimes harder to see it when it is closer to home.

"We in the labour movement will never be complacent about anti-Semitism.

"We all need to do better.

"I am committed to ensuring the Labour Party is a welcoming and secure place for Jewish people.

"And I hope this Passover will mark a move to stronger and closer relations between us and everyone in the Jewish community.

"In the fight against anti-Semitism, I am your ally and I always will be."