Jewish Labour MP who called Corbyn an anti-Semite says she ‘was right’ to do so

Margaret Hodge, who lost relatives in Holocaust, says leadership has responded to rising hatred arrogantly and dismissively, claims party now ‘a hostile environment for Jews’

MP Margaret Hodge. (YouTube screenshot)
MP Margaret Hodge. (YouTube screenshot)

A Jewish MP for UK’s Labour who may suffer disciplinary action after accusing party leader Jeremy Corbyn of anti-Semitism and racism has insisted she was right to confront him, saying “I stand by my action as well as my words.”

In a piece for the Guardian newspaper Wednesday, MP Dame Margaret Hodge said Labour leadership’s response to Jewish concerns over anti-Semitism in the party had been dismissive and arrogant, and its decision to soften an internationally accepted definition of the term was infuriating.

“Under Jeremy’s leadership, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has been allowed to infect the party’s approach to growing anti-Semitism,” she lamented. “It appears to have become a legitimate price that the leadership is willing to pay for pursuing the longstanding cause of Palestinians in the Middle East.

“Under his leadership the Labour party is perceived by most Jews, thousands of party members and millions of members of the public as an anti-Semitic, and therefore racist, party. As our leader, he is now perceived by many as an anti-Semite.”

Though she noted she was secular and had never been active in the Jewish community, Hodge said she had joined Labour to fight racism, remembering the lessons of the Holocaust.

“My grandmother and my uncle were murdered by Hitler and many cousins and other relatives were slaughtered in the gas chambers,” she said.

“In the 1960s the Labour party was the natural home for Jews. To find myself 50 years later, in 2018, confronting anti-Semitism in my own party is completely and utterly awful.”

Hodge added that she and other colleagues had face anti-Semitic attacks on social media and elsewhere over the past year.

Watch Margaret Hodge speak in April about suffering anti-Semitic attacks

But the party’s recent decision to temper a definition of anti-Semitism accepted by 31 nations appeared to have been the last straw.

Labour, Hodge protested, “thought it knew better than the Crown Prosecution Service, the government, the devolved administrations and local authorities; it thought it knew better than 31 other countries, including Austria, France and Hungary, all of which have adopted the internationally agreed definition in full.”

Labour’s version omits at least four points featured in the IHRA definition, including accusing Jews of “being more loyal to Israel” than to their own country; claiming that Israel’s existence is a “racist endeavor”; applying a “double standard” to Israel; and comparing “contemporary Israeli policy” to that of the Nazis.

Proponents for the changes have claimed some parts of the definition could lead critics of Israel to be accused of anti-Semitism. But Jewish leaders have warned Israel and Diaspora Jewry are increasingly being conflated by anti-Semites, with the Jewish state and its policies used as an excuse for hatred and attacks on members of the faith.

Hodge herself noted that she has “been a vocal critic of successive Israeli governments on many counts.”

But, she said, “The party could have adopted the international definition in full and it could have launched an inclusive consultation, involving Palestinians and Jews to add to that definition if further clarification of the right to criticize the Israeli government was needed. Instead it chose to offend Jews. It chose to make the party a hostile environment for Jews. It chose to entrench antisemitism.”

Party leaders have pledged to “take action” against Hodge for her “unacceptable” comments to Corbyn.

Britain’s opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn speaks during a memorial service at St Martin-in-the-Fields in Trafalgar Square in London, on April 23, 2018, to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the murder of Stephen Lawrence. (AFP PHOTO / POOL / Victoria Jones)

“Under the terms of PLP [parliamentary Labour party] rules, behavior has to be respectful between colleagues and not bring the party into disrepute,” a Labour official was quoted by The Guardian as saying. “The behavior was clearly unacceptable between colleagues.”

Speaking inside the parliament chamber, but out of range of media, Hodge told Corbyn “You have proved you don’t want people like me in the party,” according to eyewitnesses.

“I’m sorry you feel like that,” Corbyn reportedly responded.

“It is not what you say but what you do, and by your actions you have shown you are an anti-Semitic racist,” Hodge then said.

Labour has come under fire from UK Jewish groups over the past week for not including the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism as part of its new code of conduct approved by the party.

The party’s National Executive Committee approved the new code on Tuesday, but also instructed that further consultations be held with a view to possible future changes.

Earlier on Wednesday, Labour MP John Woodcock, a prominent critic of Corbyn, announced he would resign from the British opposition party over what he described as its “tolerance” of anti-Semitism.

On Monday, Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom Ephraim Mirvis sent a letter to the committee warning it would send an “unprecedented message of contempt” for British Jews if it approved the controversial guidelines.

Labour’s Jewish affiliate has also sharply criticized the softened definition of anti-Semitism and warned its adoption could put Labour in breach of the Equality Act, a key UK anti-discrimination law.

Legal advice from the Jewish Labour Movement argued that the party’s decision to adopt a softer definition of anti-Semitism than that used by the government means it treats Jews less favorably than other groups, The Guardian reported Monday.

Labour under Corbyn, a hard-left politician who has called Hezbollah and Hamas his “friends” and who is fighting accusations of harboring anti-Semitic sentiments, has come under intense scrutiny in the media over anti-Semitic rhetoric by its members. In 2016, an inter-parliamentary committee accused Labour of creating a “safe space for those with vile attitudes towards Jewish people.”

Corbyn has maintained that Labour will not tolerate racist rhetoric by its members. Dozens were kicked out over anti-Semitic statements. However, the party has kept on many Labour members whom Jewish community leaders said engaged in anti-Semitic hate speech.

JTA contributed to this report.

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