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British chief rabbi warns against Labour

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CNAAN LIPHSHIZ

Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis made his intervention on Tuesday in a column published in the online edition of The Times of London. “It’s not my place to tell any person how they should vote,” Mirvis wrote, adding, “I regret being in this situation at all.” But in the column, he listed anti-Semitism scandals involving Labour and its leader since 2015, the far-left politician Jeremy Corbyn.

“Many members of the Jewish community can hardly believe that this is the same party that they proudly called their political home for more than a century. It can no longer claim to be the party of diversity, equality, and anti-racism. This is the Labour Party in name only,” he wrote.

Mirvis then considered how complicit in prejudice a leader of Her Majesty’s opposition would have to be in order to be considered unfit for high office. He asked, “Would association with those who have openly incited hatred against Jews be enough? Would support for a racist mural, depicting powerful, hook-nosed Jews supposedly getting rich at the expense of the weak and downtrodden be enough? Would describing as ‘friends’ those who endorse and even perpetrate the murder of Jews be enough? It seems not.”

Come the 12 December election, “the very soul of our nation is at stake”, he wrote.

Corbyn in 2013 defended a mural depicting Jewish men playing Monopoly on the backs of dark-skinned men. In 2014, he laid a wreath on a monument commemorating Palestinian terrorists who murdered Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics. He called Hamas and Hezbollah his friends in 2009.

Under Corbyn, anti-Semitism and anti-Israel vitriol proliferated in Labour’s ranks, prompting the Equality and Human Rights Commission, a government watchdog, to launch its first inquiry into the handling of racism in any mainstream British party.

Corbyn has denied harbouring or encouraging any anti-Semitic bias.

Amanda Bowman, the vice-president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, said Mirvis’ call was unprecedented, pointing out that it was “sadly reflective of how many British Jews feel”. They are “fearful that if Labour has allowed anti-Semitism to take hold in this way while in opposition, that things will become worse if they are in government”, she wrote on Tuesday.

The chief rabbi was backed by Christian, Hindu, Muslim, and Sikh leaders. Within the British Jewish community, the response was divided.

Raymond Simonson, the chief executive of a Jewish cultural centre in London, told The Guardian that, “For the chief rabbi, the most senior religious leader in the UK Jewish community, to come out with something as strong as this is extraordinary. Even if people disagree, the fact he’s moved to say this publicly reflects absolute angst in his heart, soul, and mind. People who have been natural Labour voters are reluctantly coming to the conclusion that they can’t vote Labour this time.”

Karen Pollock, the chief executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust, told The Guardian that Mirvis would have written his article from a sense of duty. “I think he was right to do it, and I respect him for it. It reflects the deep despair and distress felt by the community, and the absolute failure of a political party with a long history of fighting racism to deal with anti-Semitism today. It’s heart breaking.”

Mike Katz, who chairs the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM), said, “Sadly Mirvis’ diagnosis is spot on. That’s why the JLM has said, for the first time ever, we’re downing tools in this election. We’re only supporting exceptional [Labour] candidates in exceptional circumstances.”

But Jewish Voice for Labour (JVL), said Mirvis’ article was “utterly inappropriate”. Jonathan Rosenhead, a member of the group, said, “As with all other accusations made, they’re very nearly evidence-free. It’s not an endemic problem. There are anti-Semites in the Labour party because they’re everywhere. But this country is the safest place in Europe for Jews.”

In an interview with the BBC on Tuesday night, Corbyn refused to apologise to the Jewish community following Mirvis’ comments. Asked four times if he would say sorry, the opposition leader instead said that a Labour government would protect “every community against the abuse they receive”.

Corbyn said he wanted to have “a discussion” with the chief rabbi, who needed to produce evidence to back up his claims.

A Labour spokesman said, “Jeremy Corbyn is a lifelong campaigner against anti-Semitism, and has made it absolutely clear it has no place in our party and society and that no-one who engages in it does so in his name,” according to the Evening Standard.

“A Labour government will guarantee the security of the Jewish community, defend and support the Jewish way of life, and combat rising anti-Semitism in our country and across Europe. Our race and faith manifesto sets out our policies to achieve this.”

The chief rabbi claimed that there were at least 130 outstanding cases of anti-Semitism in the party, and that thousands more have been reported but remain unresolved.

But the Labour spokesman said, “The figure is inaccurate, and it is categorically untrue to suggest there are thousands of outstanding cases. We are taking robust action to root out anti-Semitism in the party, with swift suspensions, processes for rapid expulsion, and an education programme for members.” – Additional reporting by Tali Feinberg

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