Jeremy Corbyn this evening said he was 'sincerely sorry' for the pain caused by 'pockets of anti-semitism' in his party, and is arranging to meet representatives of the Jewish community this week. Tonight the Labour leader has had something of a preview of how that meeting might go, with the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Jewish Leadership Council publishing a furious letter in which they accuse him of ignoring the 'mainstream majority of British Jews'.
The letter, entitled 'enough is enough', says Corbyn personifies the form of politics that repeatedly fails to take antisemitism seriously, and says that 'again and again, Jeremy Corbyn has sided with antisemites rather than Jews'. Its authors argue:
'Jeremy Corbyn did not invent this form of politics, but he has had a lifetime within it, and now personifies its problems and dangers. He issues empty statements about opposing antisemitism, but does nothing to understand or address it. We conclude that he cannot seriously contemplate antisemitism, because he is so ideologically fixed within a far left worldview that is instinctively hostile to mainstream Jewish communities.'
You can read the full text below. This letter is extraordinary, not merely in terms of the accusations it makes, but also in terms of the circumstances in which it has been written: a leader of a mainstream party in Britain is refusing to apologise for backing an artist who painted an anti-semitic mural. The argument of his supporters, including Tom Watson, that it would have been difficult to see the detail of the mural on a phone, is an incredibly weak one; Labour MPs would have been quick to condemn someone who had failed to see the racism in a mural about black people, for instance. The letter points out Corbyn's long-standing involvement with this form of politics, presumably to highlight that he is not some naive buffoon who hadn't recognised the very obviously anti-semitic imagery in the mural.
What should Corbyn do now? The letter demands that he tell his party to cut out the everyday anti-semitism that is now rife. He may well come up with the sort of 'routine statements against anti-semitism "and all forms of racism"' that the letter derides, but the chances of him apologising for commenting approvingly on the mural now seem very slim indeed. The leadership has been in a spin over the past few days, issuing a series of defensive statements which have all refused to apologise for the mural comment, condemning only the actions of others. The team around Corbyn may well decide, as some of his supporters already have, that this is just a smear campaign against the leader, and that the best thing to do now is to double down and ignore everything.
Those in his party who are furious that their leader appears to find discussion about anti-semitism a bit repetitive know that they cannot remove him. What a sorry state of affairs the Labour Party is now in, where the only real option left open to those who are disgusted by something so terrible as anti-semitism is to leave.
Today, leaders of British Jewry tell Jeremy Corbyn that enough is enough. We have had enough of hearing that Jeremy Corbyn “opposes antisemitism”, whilst the mainstream majority of British Jews, and their concerns, are ignored by him and those he leads.
There is a repeated institutional failure to properly address Jewish concerns and to tackle antisemitism, with the Chakrabarti Report being the most glaring example of this.
Jeremy Corbyn did not invent this form of politics, but he has had a lifetime within it, and now personifies its problems and dangers. He issues empty statements about opposing antisemitism, but does nothing to understand or address it. We conclude that he cannot seriously contemplate antisemitism, because he is so ideologically fixed within a far left worldview that is instinctively hostile to mainstream Jewish communities.
When Jews complain about an obviously antisemitic mural in Tower Hamlets, Corbyn of course supports the artist. Hizbollah commits terrorist atrocities against Jews, but Corbyn calls them his friends and attends pro-Hizbollah rallies in London. Exactly the same goes for Hamas. Raed Salah says Jews kill Christian children to drink their blood. Corbyn opposes his extradition and invites him for tea at the House of Commons. These are not the only cases. He is repeatedly found alongside people with blatantly antisemitic views, but claims never to hear or read them.
Again and again, Jeremy Corbyn has sided with antisemites rather than Jews. At best, this derives from the far left’s obsessive hatred of Zionism, Zionists and Israel. At worst, it suggests a conspiratorial worldview in which mainstream Jewish communities are believed to be a hostile entity, a class enemy.
When Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader of the Labour Party, Jews expressed sincere and profound fears as to how such politics would impact upon their wellbeing. Our concerns were never taken seriously. Three years on, the Party and British Jews are reaping the consequences.
Routine statements against antisemitism “and all forms of racism” get nowhere near dealing with the problem, because what distinguishes antisemitism from other forms of racism is the power that Jews are alleged to hold, and how they are charged with conspiring together against what is good.
This is not only historic, or about what Jeremy Corbyn did before being Party leader. It is also utterly contemporary. There is literally not a single day in which Labour Party spaces, either online or in meetings, do not repeat the same fundamental antisemitic slanders against Jews. We are told that our concerns are faked, and done at the command of Israel and/or Zionism (whatever that means); that antisemitism is merely “criticism of Israel”; that we call any and all criticism of Israel “antisemitic”; that the Rothschilds run the world; that ISIS terrorism is a fake front for Israel; that Zionists are the new Nazis; and that Zionists collaborate with Nazis.
Rightly or wrongly, those who push this offensive material regard Jeremy Corbyn as their figurehead. They display an obsessive hatred of Israel alongside conspiracy theories and fake news. These repeated actions do serous harm to British Jews and to the British Labour Party.
Jeremy Corbyn is the only person with the standing to demand that all of this stops. Enough is enough.