John McDonnell says Jewish Labour MP facing no confidence vote 'has not been clear' in proving loyalty to party
Shadow chancellor's comments on move against Luciana Berger labelled 'unacceptable' and 'a disgrace'
John McDonnell has sparked fury by suggesting a Jewish Labour MP facing a vote of no confidence needs to confirm her loyalty to the party.
The shadow chancellor said Luciana Berger "hasn't been clear" in distancing herself from reports of a possible breakaway of Labour MPs and called on her to "put the issue to bed".
Ms Berger, who has suffered anti-Jewish abuse and been a vocal critic of Jeremy Corbyn's handling of antisemitism, is the subject of two motions of no confidence tabled by party members in her Liverpool Wavertree constituency.
One has been proposed by a member who previously called Ms Berger, the parliamentary chair of the Jewish Labour Movement, a "disruptive Zionist".
The motion accuses the MP of "continuously criticising our leader when she should be working for a general election and opposing the Tories".
The other claims that she is "continually using the media to criticise the man we all want to be prime minister".
They will be debated and put to a vote on 17 February.
The move against Ms Berger prompted many Labour MPs to post messages expressing support for her.
But Mr McDonnell said that, while it would be "completely wrong" if the motions were a response to Ms Berger standing up to antisemitism, he believed they were instead motivated by doubts over her loyalty to Labour.
He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "If people are saying 'look, we are expressing a vote of no confidence because Luciana has stood up and exposed antisemitism in our party', that would be completely wrong and, of course, we would say that is not right.
"But it looks as though there's other issues. It seems on social media, from what I've seen, what's happened is Luciana has been associated in the media with a breakaway party.
"Some local party members, the media, have asked her to deny that. She hasn't been clear in that."
He added: "So my advice really, on all of this, is for Luciana to just put this issue to bed. Say very clearly 'no, I'm not supporting another party, I'm not jumping ship'."
The claim triggered a furious response from Labour MPs.
Responding to the shadow chancellor's suggestion that Ms Berger had not been clear enough in her support for Labour, Ilford North MP Wes Streeting said: "The only thing Luciana isn’t ‘clear’ about is whether she is still welcome in the Labour Party after years of antisemitic abuse. She could dance through the streets of Liverpool singing ‘Oh Jeremy Corbyn’ and she would still be on the receiving end of antisemitic abuse."
Streatham MP Chuka Umunna added: "So a victim of outrageous racism in Labour must promise she will not walk because of that racism and then this can all go away. How about demanding her [constituency Labour party] treats her with the respect she deserves. How about the party deals with that racism. Words fail me. Totally unacceptable."
As the row escalated, Labour's deputy leader, Tom Watson, said those seeking the no-confidence vote in Ms Berger "bring disgrace to the party".
Speaking in the Commons, he said: "Let us not forget our honourable colleagues on both sides of this House, the subject of death threats, the subject of racist abuse, the subject of misogynistic abuse, the subject of bullying and antisemitism.
"As the deputy leader of my party, let me say to the honourable colleagues facing abuse, and in particular my friend and comrade [Ms Berger], that she has our solidarity, our support, as she battles the bullying and hatred from members of her own local party. They bring disgrace to the party that I love."
Mr McDonnell's words were also angrily condemned by Jewish community leaders.
Jonathan Goldstein, chair of the Jewish Leadership Council, said: "Given the chance to support a fellow MP or play to the baying crowd, John McDonnell chooses the latter. Shameful but not surprising. The bullying nature of the current Labour Party shows its face again."
Karen Pollock, chief executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust, called the comments a "disgrace".
She wrote on Twitter: "Demanding loyalty from Luciana Berger rather than addressing the racism in your party? What a disgrace. Take responsibility John McDonnell and deal with the racism in your own party. What has Labour become?"
Jon Lansman, chair of the influential Momentum campaign group, also appeared to lend his support to Ms Berger.
He said: "We are a political party. The messages we send to voters are important. Whether you agree with her politics or not, whether you think she is the best possible MP for her constituency or not, she’s suffered appalling abuse. Must we always agree with people to show solidarity?
"This is not a selection process. It is just an attack which will have no consequence except damage to the reputation of the party. On someone who has suffered and is still suffering abuse."