Richard Watts defends Jeremy Corbyn – but calls idea Labour has no anti-semitism a ‘denial of a reality’

Islington Council Leader Richard Watts at Islington Labour’s manifesto launch, with Jeremy Corbyn sitting in the front row. Photograph: Islington Council

Islington council leader Richard Watts today defended Jeremy Corbyn against charges of anti-semitism – but called the idea there is no anti-semitism in the Labour Party “a denial of a reality”.

Cllr Watts posted a message on his website today following Monday’s ‘Enough is Enough’ protest outside parliament by Jewish groups angry about Corbyn’s record on anti-semitism.

He said: “I can honestly say that I’ve never personally encountered anti-semitic words or attitudes at a party event in the quarter of a century that I’ve been a member.

“However, there are enough examples of appalling racist and anti-semitic social media comments by some members and supporters, along with people I know and trust telling me they’ve been victims of anti-semitic attacks from within the party (although not in Islington), for me to be clear there is a problem here that Labour needs to confront.

“To say anything else would be a denial of a reality.”

Cllr Watts defended Corbyn’s record on anti-semitism, saying: “As Leader of Islington Council, and a councillor in Jeremy’s constituency for 12 years, I’ve seen first hand how well he works with the local Jewish community, supports Jewish constituents and has fostered links with Jewish community groups.

“I have stood alongside Jeremy at the council’s annual Holocaust Memorial Day events where he has condemned anti-semitism and the Holocaust as a unique crime in history, and I have sat in solemn silence next to him when we have listened to the testimony of Holocaust survivors.”

He added: “Any accusation from elements of the media that Jeremy is an anti-semite himself is, quite frankly, wrong.”

Cllr Watts welcomed Corbyn’s letter to Jewish groups on Monday promising to tackle anti-semitism in the Labour movement, and called on the party to “rapidly implement Jeremy’s words”.

“Any member found to have made anti-semitic comments or harassed Jewish comrades has no place in the Labour Party and should be expelled”, he said.

“More training and education on modern anti-semitism should be made available through our party.

“But more than this, everyone in a position of leadership in our party needs to be absolutely clear that prejudice and racism of all kinds must be confronted and must be willing to confront it in their communities and local parties.”

Cllr Watts added: “Labour in Islington has a proud record of working with the local Jewish community, as well as other communities, in our wonderfully tolerant and diverse borough.”

He said the council voted unanimously to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of anti-semitism, supported and funded Jewish community groups and events, and has pledged to restore Islington’s Jewish cemetery.

“I am as proud of this as I am of the equally strenuous work we’ve put into fighting Islamophobia and hate crime in all its forms”, he said.