The crowd started gathering well in advance of 5.30pm, when the “call to action” demonstration organised by the Board of Deputies and the Jewish Leadership Council was due to begin.
Soon, Parliament Square was filled, almost corner to corner, with thousands of people from across the party in a display of solidarity against Labour antisemitism. I counted 40 Labour MPs – Jonathan Reynolds, Stephen Timms, Harriet Harman, Anna Turley, John Mann, Seema Malhotra, Toby Perkins, Luciana Berger, Gareth Snell, Anna McMorrin, John Woodcock, Jon Cruddas, Gavin Shuker, Mike Gapes, Siobhan McDonagh, Gareth Thomas, Sharon Hodgson, Stephen Kinnock, Phil Wilson, Kate Green, Wes Streeting, Joan Ryan, Tonia Antoniazzi, Ian Austin, David Lammy, Ruth Smeeth, Thangam Debbonaire, Ellie Reeves, Holly Lynch, Stephen Doughty, Stephen Morgan, Chukka Umunna, Neil Coyle, Angela Smith, Stella Creasy, Diana Johnson – but there were more.
Jewish Voice for Labour formed a counter-protest on the pavement beside the green. Their presence showed that not all Jewish members of the party agree with the statements of BoD and JLC (and why would there be consensus?), but their numbers were few in comparison.
Ahead of the protest, Jeremy Corbyn wrote to concerned Jewish leaders. Further to the statement released on Sunday in which he said he was “sincerely sorry” for the “hurt and pain” caused by antisemitism in “pockets” of the party, Corbyn recognised again in the letter that antisemitism exists in the party and that it has often been dismissed as “a matter of a few bad apples”.
The Labour leader described the controversial mural as “evil” and apologised for having “wrongly” questioned its removal in 2012. He pledged to ensure earlier action is taken to deal with cases of antisemitic abuse. The message to Jewish Labour members: “I will always be your ally in the fight against antisemitism”.
Jewish Labour Movement vice-chair Mike Katz has today written for LabourList. He says “this is not about undermining the fact that Jeremy Corbyn is Labour’s leader” whose overwhelming mandate is clear. Instead, “this is a challenge to him to lead the Labour Party – and the wider movement – out of this toxic situation”.
Corbyn’s latest words are exactly what many needed to hear. Now we look forward to further action.