Has Jeremy Corbyn turned over a new leaf? This time last year at the Labour Friends of Israel reception, the Labour leader pointedly refused to say the word ‘Israel’. That stubbornness led to a heckler yelling at Corbyn: ‘Say the word Israel!’. It was clear he was determined not to make the same blunder a year on. In fact, at tonight’s reception, he went five times better – mentioning Israel repeatedly during his address. Corbyn also affirmed a ‘two state solution’ and said:
‘I say this: the Labour party is not a home for anti-Semitism in any form. I do not intend to allow it to be. The Labour party must be specifically an anti-racist party and specifically opposed to any form of anti-Semitism anywhere in our movement. There is no place for it.’
Unlike last year, Corbyn’s message went down well with those who had gathered. There were no heckles, and the applause was much louder by the end of his speech than the lukewarm clapping which greeted his arrival.
It’s true that the Labour leader did look a little awkward and slightly uncomfortable on stage at times. There were also a number of moments where the Labour leader was the only one on stage not to clap. When an Israeli MP speaker had a go at Labour (‘our sister party’) and told them to ‘root out this evil’ of anti-Semitism, Corbyn barely batted an eyelid as others on stage applauded. And when Hamas – who Corbyn has previously called his ‘friends’ – were denounced loudly on stage as being ‘part of the problem and not the solution’, Corbyn didn’t join Emily Thornberry and others in applauding that sentiment
Yet for those who might have thought Corbyn wasn’t pleased to be at the reception, he repeatedly told those gathered that wasn’t the case. He said how ‘glad’, ‘very very pleased’ and ‘delighted’ he was to get to speak, just for the avoidance of doubt. But while Corbyn’s expression didn’t give much away, it seems Corbyn might actually be determined to act on his pitch to ‘wipe the slate clean’ and start afresh. Luciana Berger, a Labour MP who has suffered anti-Semitic abuse and was watching in the audience, said she thought ‘it was a great speech’.
Corbyn clearly has some work to do to convince people he is no ‘friend’ of the likes of Hamas. But he made sure, at the very least, not to make a repeat of the basic mistakes he made at the event this time last year. For one, managing to mention Israel by name is an improvement. By that test, at least, Corbyn exceeded the low bar he has set in the past. Yet the real measure now is in keeping this up and calling out anti-Semitism wherever it rears its ugly head, even if that means among some of those who claim to support him.