Jeremy Corbyn denied Labour is now a “nasty party” as members backed new rules dealing with anti-Semitism following a row over comments which allegedly targeted Jews.
The Labour leader’s insistence that use of anti-Semitic language is “completely at odds with the beliefs of this party” came after a speaker at a fringe event was reported to have said people should be allowed to question if the Holocaust had happened.
This led to shadow cabinet member Jon Ashworth being forced to denounce the “disgusting” anti-Semitic remarks while backbench MP Wes Streeting accused the party leadership of having an “ostrich” approach to the problem.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission urged the party leadership to take action while delegates called for Holocaust deniers to be “kicked out on their ear” from Labour and warned that anti-Semitism is a “significant issue” for the party as members considered party membership changes.
Labour’s ruling governing body, the National Executive Committee (NEC), developed a proposal to explicitly state, among other things, that “prejudicial” conduct includes anti-Semitism.
Labour confirmed this was supported by delegates at the party’s conference in Brighton following a vote although the result was not announced in the main hall and a breakdown has yet to be released.
The damaging row broke out after Israeli-American author Miko Peled told a fringe event, which was advertised in Labour’s official conference programme: “This is about free speech, the freedom to criticise and to discuss every issue, whether it’s the Holocaust: yes or no, Palestine, the liberation, the whole spectrum. There should be no limits on the discussion.”
The Daily Mail reported he said: “It’s about the limits of tolerance: we don’t invite the Nazis and give them an hour to explain why they are right; we do not invite apartheid South Africa racists to explain why apartheid was good for the blacks, and in the same way we do not invite Zionists – it’s a very similar kind of thing.”
Mr Corbyn, in a round of TV interviews, said it was “awful” for anyone to brand Labour the nasty party – a term which Theresa May admitted in 2002 had become attached to the Conservatives.
“This is not a nasty party,” Mr Corbyn told Channel 4 News. “This is the biggest Labour conference we have had for many, many years.
“Nobody should be abused, whoever they are. We have just passed a motion on racism and anti-Semitism which is comprehensive and inclusive and is supported by all wings of the party and unanimously agreed by our national executive.
“Anyone using anti-Semitic language, anyone using any form of racist language, is completely at odds with the beliefs of this party.”
The membership rule motion to clamp down on anti-Semitism followed proposals from the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM), with the group’s Mike Katz telling delegates: “The purpose of our rule change was to close off a loophole, a cop-out clause which says holding a sincerely held belief makes hate speech okay.
“Come on conference, is it really okay for a member to say they’ve got a sincerely held belief that women are inferior to men, or that the Holocaust didn’t happen? No, of course not.
“We want to see anybody saying that kicked out on their ear.”
The JLM backed the NEC motion but the group was criticised by other delegates.
Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi, who chaired the fringe event where the allegedly anti-Semitic remarks were made, was applauded after she said Mr Katz would have “a bit more credibility” if the JLM “didn’t spend so much of its time running to the Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph with stories”.
She also questioned the wording of the NEC’s proposal about the “holding or expression of beliefs and opinions”, saying: “Obviously if you express hateful opinions, you’ve got to be disciplined – or at least educated.
“But holding them? That’s thought crime, comrades, we can’t be having with it – so be careful, NEC.”
Phil Cohen, from Finchley and Golders Green CLP, said “too many” Labour voters in Barnet had turned away from the party as they “didn’t think the party was dealing with allegations of anti-Semitism effectively”.
Zach Murrell-Dowson, from the Bristol North West CLP, added: “Those who say that anti-Semitism isn’t a significant issue in the Labour Party are wrong.”
Labour sources said the party was not responsible for the content of fringe events staged by groups that had no affiliation to the party.