Labour has let poison of antisemitism take root, says chief rabbi

The chief rabbi has accused Jeremy Corbyn of allowing a “poison sanctioned from the top” to take root in Labour, saying Jews are justifiably anxious about the prospect of the party forming the next government.

Ephraim Mirvis, the spiritual leader of the UK’s 62 orthodox synagogues, made a rare intervention in politics to argue that the “soul of the nation is at stake” as the country goes to the polls in just over two weeks’ time.

Writing for The Times, he said it was not his place to tell people how to vote but argued that the way in which the Labour leadership had dealt with anti-Jewish racism was “incompatible with the British values of which we are so proud – of dignity and respect for all people”.

Labour has always strongly denied any suggestion that Corbyn has failed to get to grips with allegations of antisemitism in Labour, pointing to his record as an anti-racist campaigner and moves to overhaul the party’s complaints process.

The rabbi wrote: “The party leadership have never understood that their failure is not just one of procedure, which can be remedied with additional staff or new processes. It is a failure to see this as a human problem rather than a political one. It is a failure of culture. It is a failure of leadership. A new poison – sanctioned from the top – has taken root in the Labour party.”

Mirvis said British Jews were gripped by a justified anxiety about the prospect of a Corbyn government.

He wrote: “How complicit in prejudice would a leader of Her Majesty’s opposition have to be to be considered unfit for office? Would associations with those who have incited hatred against Jews be enough? Would describing as ‘friends’ those who endorse the murder of Jews be enough? It seems not.

“It is not my place to tell any person how they should vote. I regret being in this situation at all. I simply pose the question: What will the result of this election say about the moral compass of our country? When 12 December arrives, I ask every person to vote with their conscience. Be in no doubt, the very soul of our nation is at stake.”

The rabbi also claimed that there were 130 cases of antisemitism that were outstanding against Labour members, an allegation the party disputes.

“The Jewish community has watched with incredulity as supporters of the Labour leadership have hounded parliamentarians, members and even staff out of the party for challenging anti-Jewish racism,” Mirvis wrote.

“Even as they received threats, the response of the Labour leadership was utterly inadequate. We have endured quibbling and prevarication over whether the party should adopt the most widely accepted definition of antisemitism.

“Now we await the outcome of a formal investigation by the Equality and Human Rights Commission into whether discrimination by the party against Jews has become an institutional problem. And all of this while in opposition. What should we expect of them in government?”

A Labour party spokesman said Corbyn was a “lifelong campaigner against antisemitism and has made absolutely clear it has no place in our party and society and that no one who engages in it does so in his name”.

He added: “A Labour government will guarantee the security of the Jewish community, defend and support the Jewish way of life, and combat rising antisemitism in our country and across Europe. Our race and faith manifesto, launched today, sets out our policies to achieve this.

“The 130 figure is inaccurate and it is categorically untrue to suggest there are thousands of outstanding cases. We are taking robust action to root out antisemitism in the party, with swift suspensions, processes for rapid expulsions and an education programme for members.

“Antisemitism complaints account for about 0.1% of the Labour party membership, while polls show antisemitism is more prevalent among Conservative than Labour supporters. In the past week it’s been revealed Conservative candidates said events in the Holocaust were ‘fabricated’ and called British Jews ‘extremists’.”


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