UK’s chief rabbi accuses Labour Party of anti-Semitism


The U.K.’s Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis made an unprecedented intervention Tuesday in the country’s general election, accusing Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn of anti-Semitism. 

In an article for the Times newspaper, Mirvis did not mention Corbyn by name, but did say that “a new poison – sanctioned from the top – has taken root in the Labour Party.”

“How far is too far? How complicit in prejudice would a leader of Her Majesty’s opposition have to be to be considered unfit for office?

“It is not my place to tell any person how they should vote,” he said. “When December 12 arrives, I ask every person to vote with their conscience. Be in no doubt, the very soul of our nation is at stake.”

Searing criticism

Corbyn has been accused by critics of allowing anti-Semitism to grow in the party after becoming leader in 2015. He has repeatedly called anti-Semitism and racism an evil, but critics have said his words have not been backed up with real action.

Mirvis said Labour had downplayed accusations of anti-Semitism and not stood up for Jewish party members and MPs who have been criticized online, some of whom had left the party as a result of the abuse.

“This anxiety is justified,” he said, adding that Labour’s claim that it was doing all it could to fight anti-Semitism was a “mendacious fiction.”

“According to the Jewish Labour Movement, there are at least 130 outstanding cases before the party, some dating back years, and thousands more have been reported but remain unresolved,” he said.

Mirvis highlighted that Labour is only the second party in history to be investigated by the U.K.’s Equality and Human Rights Commission after the far-right BNP.

“And all of this while in opposition. What should we expect of them in government?” he said.

In an interview with the BBC on Tuesday night, Corbyn declined four times an opportunity to formally apologize to the U.K.’s Jewish community but also repeated his view that anti-Semitism was unacceptable.

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, who heads the Church of England, tweeted his support for Mirvis.

“That the chief rabbi should be compelled to make such an unprecedented statement at this time ought to alert us to the deep sense of insecurity and fear felt by many British Jews. They should be able to live in accordance with their beliefs and freely express their culture and faith,” he said.

The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) released a statement on the matter.

“Today’s statement by the Chief Rabbi highlights the real fear many British Jews have, regarding the unacceptable presence of anti-Semitism in Britain and in politics today…We agree with the Chief Rabbi’s observation that ‘some politicians have shown courage but too many have sat silent.’”

‘Bank robber burkas’

The MCB continued by highlighting the issue of Islamophobia in the Conservative Party, thus completing a day filled with accusations by different religious groups against different political parties.

“As a faith community, we commonly are threatened by Islamophobia,” the statement said. “This is an issue that is particularly acute in the Conservative Party, who have approached Islamophobia with denial, dismissal and deceit. It is abundantly clear to many Muslims that the Conservative Party tolerates Islamophobia, allows it to fester in society, and fails to put in place the measures necessary to root out this type of racism.”

The council finished by saying that British Muslims “will listen to the Chief Rabbi and agree on the importance of voting with their conscience.”

Prime Minister and Conservative Party leader Boris Johnson has come under particular criticism for his remarks about Islam.

Last year, Johnson was referred to the same Equality and Human Rights Commission as Labour were this year for his remarks about Muslim women in an article he wrote for the Telegraph newspaper.

Referring to the burka, he said in the piece: “It is absolutely ridiculous that people should choose to go around looking like letter boxes,” adding that if female Muslims went to classes “looking like a bank robber,” they should remove their burqas.

Tell MAMA, a group that monitors anti-Muslim abuse, reported at the time that Islamophobic incidents increased 375% in the week following the article.

In 2005, Johnson wrote in the Spectator magazine: “To any non-Muslim reader of the Koran, Islamophobia — fear of Islam — seems a natural reaction, and, indeed, exactly what that text is intended to provoke.”

“Judged purely on its scripture — to say nothing of what is preached in the mosques — it is the most viciously sectarian of all religions in its heartlessness towards unbelievers,” he wrote.

When running for the party leadership earlier this year, Johnson promised to launch an inquiry specifically into Islamophobia in the party but later changed it to a general investigation into prejudice of all kinds, leading to criticism from critics that he was watering down and reneging on his pledge.

On Tuesday, the same day Corbyn refused four times to apologize to the Jewish community, Conservative Chancellor Sajid Javid refused seven times to condemn Johnson for his comments about Muslim women looking like bank robbers and letterboxes.

The U.K. is due to hold a general election on Dec. 12 after three years of division and gridlock in Westminster due to Brexit. The tone and quality of political debate has been met with a general sense of dismay in the country.
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