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“Never did I expect this, in living memory of the Holocaust”: What happened at the rally against anti-semitism?

Over 500 people demonstrate against anti-semitism in the Labour Party, and are met with a counter-protest backing Jeremy Corbyn.

“NO to anti-semitism”, “NO to Holocaust Denial”: black placards fill Parliament Square on Monday evening, as a crowd of over 500 gather to protest against anti-semitism.

But there are other banners too. “Jews for Jez”, “Jeremy is not an anti-semite”, and “Stop Smearing Labour”.

Among lively debates are moments of grim tension – as soon as the rally begins, one counter-demonstrator standing on the edge of the main protest begins questioning if those around him feel they’re “God’s chosen people”, and is removed by police amid cries of “racist!” and “arrest him!”.

A police officer tells him not to enter the main protest to unnecessarily upset and antagonise people.

The clash of views follows a weekend of division over Jeremy Corbyn’s response to anti-semitic views in the Labour movement. The slogan on the protesters’ banners – “#EnoughisEnough” –  is a reference to an open letter, sent by Jewish community leaders to the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn yesterday, accusing him of siding “with anti-semites rather than Jews”.

The Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Jewish Leadership Council organised this rally, and urged Labour MPs – meeting tonight – to stand up to their leader, calling him, “ideologically fixed within a far-left worldview that is instinctively hostile to mainstream Jewish communities”.

A Facebook comment by Corbyn resurfaced from 2012 a few days ago, appearing to defend a mural bearing grotesque anti-semitic imagery – the final straw after a series of scandals involving anti-semitic comments by Labour members and supporters under Corbyn’s leadership.

Over three days, Corbyn’s defence that he hadn’t looked properly at the mural turned into an admission of “pockets” of anti-semitism on the left, and eventually an apology to Jewish leaders this afternoon.

In response to their letter, Corbyn wrote: “I am sincerely sorry for the pain which has been caused, and pledge to redouble my efforts to bring this anxiety to an end.”

But it isn’t enough for MPs present at the rally, who tell the crowd they will be challenging their leader this evening, at tonight’s meeting – though he was not scheduled to attend (and didn’t turn up).

“What is going on with the Labour Party when this kind of event even has to be considered?” John Mann MP asks, pledging to demand Corbyn expels “every single antisemite”.

“Denial is not an option,” says Luciana Berger MP to much cheering. “Being a bystander is not an option.”

“I don’t know why Jeremy Corbyn, who speaks out against racism, can’t see left-wing antisemitism, ” Louise Ellman MP tells the crowd.

“That this event is necessary is a stain on the reputation of the Labour Party” says Wes Streeting, the last MP speaker, promising to “drain the cesspit of anti-semitism in the Labour Party”.

All demanded “action” from their leadership rather than words, including: ensuring that Ken Livingstone is not readmitted to the party, expelling everyone who has expressed anti-semitic views, and implementing the recommendations of Shami Chakrabarti’s report for a “genuine” fight against anti-semitism.

The New Statesman spotted over 30 Labour MPs in the crowd, and there were Tory politicians too, including Housing Secretary Sajid Javid and former cabinet member Theresa Villiers.

“It’s got to be rooted out, we just can’t explain it away, because it goes to the very core unfortunately,” says Philip, a 62-year-old retired teacher from Merthyr Tydfil, who isn’t Jewish himself.

“I come from the place of the first Labour MP Keir Hardie, and my grandparents were all miners and they were Labour Party members and today they would be ashamed. So I’m up here to right a wrong.”

He calls the MPs’ speeches “all talk”: “I’ve heard them all before – something needs to be done.”

But Joseph Masri, an 18-year-old student from London, who is at his first ever protest, finds the MPs’ words “insightful” and the turn-out “encouraging”.

“I’m Jewish, and I’m apolitical,” he says. “Never did I or any of my contemporaries believe that in living memory of the Holocaust that we would have to stand outside Westminster and protest against a mainstream party and its leader – it’s very sad.”

This note of sadness is prevalent. “It’s the sad realisation that it’s no longer anti-Zionism, or just a few token incidents,” says a 24-year-old from London, who has supported the Labour Party under different leaders. “It’s systematically undermining the Jewish community.”

“As a British person, that anybody could impose tropes and suggestions that they know how we think, feel – nobody would pick up any other religion or nationality and project assumptions or prejudices. This is the 21st century” says Anuta Rosenfelder, a 54-year-old from London.

“In Russia, Jews were accused of being capitalists, in America, Jews were accused of being Communists. It doesn’t really matter, whatever we do is wrong.”

Carolyn Mandelson, a 60-year-old Jewish woman from London, also despairs at the racist tropes Jewish people are subjected to, like the images in the notorious mural Corbyn commented on.

“If Jews ran the media, we wouldn’t have to be here [at this rally] – we’re clearly not running the world, otherwise things like this wouldn’t be happening,” she says.

After the Labour MPs exit the stage, protesters and counter-protesters cross paths. Some debate amiably and shake hands; others shout over each other. A man carries a portrait of Corbyn reading “For the many, not the Jew”; another group morph the “Ohh, Jeremy Corbyn” White Stripes chant of his supporters into “Ohh, Jeremy’s a racist”.

Mica Nava, a member Jewish Voice for Labour, defends Corbyn. “I think it’s very important to demonstrate publicly and especially to the media that there isn’t a single Jewish community and a single Jewish voice,” says the retired academic, who is Jewish herself.

“A lot of people support Jeremy Corbyn – and a lot of the accusations of anti-semitism are politically rooted, and the timing of these accusations is significant; they’re surfacing now three weeks before an important election.”

This view is echoed by many on the left who support Corbyn, and some of his allies in Parliament have endorsed the idea that accusations of anti-semitism are simply a “smear” to undermine him.

But the Labour leader himself admits being “too slow” to act against the racist attitudes that “have surfaced more often in our ranks in recent years”. The protesters here today hope this acknowledgement will finally lead to some action – and they will no longer have to highlight a prejudice that has no place here in Parliament Square or beyond.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

Arsène Wenger. Credit: Getty
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My biggest regret of the Wenger era? How we, the fans, treated him at the end

Arsenal’s greatest coach deserved better treatment from the Club’s supporters. 

I have no coherent memories of Arsenal before Arsène Wenger, who will leave the Club at the end of the season. I am aware of the Club having a new manager, but my continuous memories of my team are of Wenger at the helm.

They were good years to remember: three league titles, seven FA Cups, the most of any single manager in English football. He leaves the Club as the most successful manager in its history.

I think one of the reasons why in recent years he has taken a pasting from Arsenal fans is that the world before him now seems unimaginable, and not just for those of us who can't really remember it. As he himself once said, it is hard to go back to sausages when you are used to caviar, and while the last few years cannot be seen as below par as far as the great sweep of Arsenal’s history goes, they were below par by the standards he himself had set. Not quite sausages, but not caviar either.

There was the period of financial restraint from 2005 onwards, in which the struggle to repay the cost of a new stadium meant missing out on top player. A team that combined promising young talent with the simply bang-average went nine years without a trophy. Those years had plenty of excitement: a 2-1 victory over Manchester United with late, late goals from Robin van Persie and Thierry Henry, a delicious 5-2 thumping of Tottenham Hotspur, and races for the Champions League that went to the last day. It was a time that seemed to hold the promise a second great age of Wenger once the debt was cleared. But instead of a return to the league triumphs of the past, Wenger’s second spree of trophy-winning was confined to the FA Cup. The club went from always being challenging for the league, to always finishing in the Champions League places, to struggling to finish in the top six. Again, nothing to be sniffed at, but short of his earlier triumphs.

If, as feels likely, Arsenal’s dire away form means the hunt for a Uefa Cup victory ends at Atletico Madrid, many will feel that Wenger missed a trick in not stepping down after his FA Cup triumph over Chelsea last year, in one of the most thrilling FA Cup Finals in years. (I particularly enjoyed this one as I watched it with my best man, a Chelsea fan.) 

No one could claim that this season was a good one, but the saddest thing for me was not the turgid performances away from home nor the limp exit from the FA Cup, nor even finishing below Tottenham again. It was hearing Arsenal fans, in the world-class stadium that Wenger built for us, booing and criticising him.

And I think, that, when we look back on Wenger’s transformation both of Arsenal and of English football in general, more than whether he should have called it a day a little earlier, we will wonder how Arsenal fans could have forgotten the achievements of a man who did so much for us.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman and the PSA's Journalist of the Year. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.