Labour MPs' anger after Jeremy Corbyn appears with controversial former NUS head

Posted On: 
7th February 2018

Labour MPs have criticised Jeremy Corbyn for appearing alongside a former National Union of Students boss who has been at the centre of anti-Semitism controversies.

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Mr Corbyn unexpectedly attended a book launch where Malia Bouattia was speaking in Parliament last night.

Ms Bouattia, who was replaced as NUS president following an election last year, was criticised by Jewish groups over comments she had previously made about "Zionists".

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In a speech on Palestine in 2014,  she said: "With mainstream Zionist-led media outlets… resistance is resented as an act of terrorism."

And in an article she co-authored in 2011, she described Birmingham University as "something of a Zionist outpost in British higher education".

In a report into anti-Semitism last year, the cross-party Home Affairs Select Committee said: "The current president of the National Union of Students, Malia Bouattia, does not appear to take sufficiently seriously the issue of anti-Semitism on campus, and has responded to Jewish students’ concerns about her previous language with defensiveness and an apparent unwillingness to listen to their concerns."

In response, Ms Bouattia said: "If the language I have used in the past has been interpreted any other way then let me make this clear – it was never my intention and I have revised my language accordingly.

"Our movement has students, both Jewish and otherwise, who hold a variety of deeply held beliefs on Israel-Palestine but it is a political argument, not one of faith. There is no place for anti-Semitism in the student movement, and in society."

But Labour MPs have told PoliticsHome that Mr Corbyn showed poor judgement in appearing with Ms Bouattia last night.

One said: "For Jeremy to turn up at this event is frankly stupid. We get warm words from the leader's office about how seriously they take the issue of anti-Semitism, and then the leader himself does this. Either he was poorly briefed or he just doesn't realise how offensive this type of thing is."

Another backbencher said: "The only question is whether Jeremy doesn't care or whether he's deliberately goading to provoke a response. Either way, it's a complete disgrace.

"What is the benefit to the Labour party of the leader going to that event?  It's obscene."

But a spokesman for Mr Corbyn said: "We take all allegations about all forms of anti-Semitism extremely seriously and have very robust procedures in place for dealing with it.

"Jeremy attended the launch of a book on policy at which a number of people were present and I don't think there's any issue about that."

The latest row comes after it emerged that activist Mike Sivier, who was suspended by Labour over comments he made about Jews and Zionism, was offered the chance of re-admission by the party's ruling national executive committee if he went on a training course. However, he refused and remains suspended pending a further disciplinary hearing.

Labour MP John Mann, who is chair of the all-party parliamentary group on anti-Semitism, said: "The Labour party is in danger of losing its moral compass.

"There's no due process taking place at all, and if we become a haven for anti-Semites, the Labour party will cease to exist.

"We're a party founded on anti-racism, and therefore allowing racists to join brings into question the future of the party."