Tom Watson backs Jeremy Corbyn in ‘anti-Semitic’ mural row

A mural painted on a wall In Brick Lane London has been branded As anti-semitic By Tower Hamlets Council. Picture: Georgie Gillard
A mural painted on a wall In Brick Lane London has been branded As anti-semitic By Tower Hamlets Council. Picture: Georgie Gillard
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Senior Labour figures have defended their leader’s stance following Jeremy Corbyn’s office’s handling of a row over an allegedly anti-Semitic mural.

Shadow culture secretary Tom Watson apologised, adding that he was “very, very sorry that people feel hurt” as Mr Corbyn drew criticism for his response to a Facebook post by street artist Mear One about a plan to paint over the controversial east London mural.

Shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald told Sky News: “Jeremy Corbyn hasn’t got an anti-Semitic bone in his body. His entire history is about campaigning for human rights to oppose discrimination in whatever form it takes.”

Labour and Co-operative MP Luciana Berger, head of Jewish Labour, earlier said that the response by the leader’s office was “wholly inadequate” and failed to understand “on any level the hurt and anguish felt about anti-Semitism”.

Mr Watson branded the image a “horrible anti-Semitic mural that was rightly taken down”.

Speaking on BBC One’s The Andrew Marr Show, Mr Watson said: “That is why Jeremy has expressed deep regret and apologised for that and has actually said that it’s right that the mural was taken down.”

He added: “I’m very, very sorry that people feel hurt by this and that’s why I think it’s right that Jeremy has expressed regret for it.

Mr Watson went on: “I think it’s time we said that enough is enough on these anti-Semitic stories and we are taking measures to do that.”

Mr McDonald said: “Be in no doubt whatsoever that Jeremy is absolutely and utterly focused on driving out anti-Semitism wherever it will appear and any other forms of discrimination, it’s absolutely beyond doubt that’s what the man is about.”

He added: “He’s accepted that he didn’t look at it properly, it is anti-Semitic and it should be removed, he couldn’t be clearer about it.”

Sir Keir Starmer said Labour had to demonstrate that its “zero tolerance” approach to anti-Semitism was more than just words.

He told ITV’s Peston on Sunday: “The most important thing here is that the Labour Party keeps on saying that anti-Semitism has no place in our party, in our communities, or in our society, and we’ve got to have zero tolerance.”

Mr Watson said he was “disappointed to see Owen go” following Mr Smith’s sacking from the shadow cabinet in the Northern Ireland brief, but thought Mr Corbyn was “probably right”.

He told the BBC: “He (Owen Smith) does know how collective responsibility works – when you join a shadow cabinet you may have your own personal views, but you’re there representing the collective view of the Labour Party, and if I’m being honest I don’t think Jeremy really did have a choice but to ask him to stand down, and I think he was probably right on that.”

Mr Watson said Labour had “never called for a second referendum”.

He added: “What we want is a meaningful vote ... you should always try and keep your options open in a negotiation... well I think it is highly, highly, highly, unlikely that we will be calling for a second referendum.”