EXCL Tom Watson hits back at Theresa May in anti-Semitism row

Posted On: 
12th December 2016

Tom Watson has hit back at Theresa May after she appeared to mock him for singing at an event in which he pledged to fight anti-Semitism in the Labour party.

Theresa May described Tom Watson's rendition of a Jewish song as 'karaoke'
PA Images

The Prime Minister described the Labour deputy leader's rendition of the traditional Jewish anthem Am Yisrael Chai during a speech at a Labour Friends of Israel lunch last month as "karaoke".

She also launched a blistering attack on Labour, accusing the party of " turning a blind eye" to anti-Semitism among its members and supporters.

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In a speech to the Conservative Friends of Israel today, Mrs May said: "I understand this lunch has a lot to live up to after the extraordinary scenes at the Labour Friends of Israel event.

“It began, unusually, with Tom Watson giving a full-throated rendition of Am Yisrael Hai [sic]. The audience joined in as his baritone voice carried across the hall. 'Am Yisrael Hai - the people of Israel live’. It is a sentiment everybody in this room wholeheartedly agrees with.

"But let me say this: no amount of karaoke can make up for turning a blind eye to anti-Semitism. No matter what Labour say – or sing – they cannot ignore what has been happening in their party."

At the Labour event last month, Mr Watson acknowledged Labour had been too slow to deal with the problem, but pledged it would not happen again.

He said: "I know that people here are understandably frustrated by how long it’s taking the Labour party to deal with anti-Semitism in our midst. You’re right to be. It should have been quicker.

"I know there are still some outstanding issues that cannot be ignored. They won’t be ignored. Action is being taken now and if, God forbid, we find these problems again, action will be quicker in the future."

In response to Mrs May's comments, a spokesman for Mr Watson told PoliticsHome: "Given the seriousness of the issue, the Prime Minister was wrong to make light of Tom's speech.

"He was expressing solidarity with the Jewish community by singing Am Yisrael Chai, as everyone who was in the room that day recognised, and he said the Labour party should and would act more quickly to deal with incidents of anti-Semitism."

A spokesman for Mr Corbyn said: “Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour party share the view that language or behaviour that displays hatred towards Jews is anti-Semitism, and is as repugnant and unacceptable as any other form of racism,” a spokesperson said.

“Jeremy has consistently spoken out against all forms of anti-Semitism and condemned all anti-Semitic abuse, and set up the Chakrabarti inquiry into anti-Semitism and other forms of racism.

“Its recommendations have already led to far-reaching changes to the rules and practice of the Labour party.

“He has also taken decisive disciplinary action over allegations of anti-Semitism, including a series of suspensions and exclusions from membership.”