Wednesday 11 December 2019

Jeremy Corbyn denies chief rabbi's accusation of anti-Semitism

Protest: Poster trucks were in place to greet Mr Corbyn when he arrived in Tottenham, London yesterday. Photo: Peter Summers/Getty Images
Protest: Poster trucks were in place to greet Mr Corbyn when he arrived in Tottenham, London yesterday. Photo: Peter Summers/Getty Images

Gavin Cordon and Sam Blewett

Jeremy Corbyn has said British Labour does not tolerate anti-Semitism "in any form whatsoever" after the UK's chief rabbi warned his failure to tackle the issue made him unfit to be prime minister.

The party leader said anti-Jewish racism was "vile and wrong" and that the party had a "rapid and effective system" for dealing with complaints.

But in a speech to launch Labour's race and faith manifesto in north London, he made no direct mention of the comments by Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis. Instead it was left to the Labour peer Lord Dubs - who went to Britain in the 1930s as a child refugee fleeing the Nazis - to say he believed the attack had been "unjustified and unfair".

Writing in 'The Times', Rabbi Mirvis said Labour's handling of the issue, which has dogged the party under Mr Corbyn's leadership, was "incompatible" with British values.

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He said the overwhelming majority of Britain's Jews were "gripped with anxiety" ahead of the general election on December 12, warning "the very soul of our nation is at stake".

His comments were seized on by Tory Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who said Mr Corbyn's inability to stamp out the "virus" of anti- Semitism in Labour represented a "failure of leadership".

Mr Corbyn was greeted with shouts of "racist" by demonstrators as he arrived at the launch venue in Tottenham. A series of posters on vans parked outside read "Keep anti-Semitism out of Downing Street" and "A home for holocaust denial and terrorist supporters".

In his speech, Mr Corbyn described anti- Semitism as "an evil within our society" which had led to the Holocaust. "There is no place whatsoever for anti-Semitism in any shape or form or in any place whatsoever in modern Britain, and under a Labour government it will not be tolerated in any form whatsoever," he said.

Later, in response to journalists' questions, he said that as party leader he had introduced new disciplinary procedures which meant those who committed anti-Semitic acts were "brought to book" and, if necessary, expelled from the party or suspended.

He offered to meet with faith leaders, including the chief rabbi, to discuss their concerns.

"Be absolutely clear of this assurance from me - no community will be at risk because of their identity, their faith, their ethnicity or their language," he said.

His comments appeared unlikely to quell the political firestorm unleashed by Rabbi Mirvis's intervention.

In his article, Rabbi Mirvis dismissed Labour's claims to be doing everything it could to deal with anti-Semitism as a "mendacious fiction".

"A new poison - sanctioned from the top - has taken root in the Labour Party," he said.

"How complicit in prejudice would a leader of her majesty's opposition have to be to be considered unfit for office?"

He received high-profile backing from the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev Justin Welby, who said his "unprecedented intervention" reflected the "deep sense of insecurity and fear felt by many British Jews".

"Voicing words that commit to a stand against anti-Semitism requires a corresponding effort in visible action," he said.

The president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, Marie van der Zyl, said most in the Jewish community would find it impossible to trust the assurances given by Mr Corbyn.

"Labour's record under his leadership has shown that anti-Semites are indulged by Labour, while Jewish MPs are hounded out without a word of complaint from him," she said.

Irish Independent

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