Jewish British leaders urge Corbyn to fight anti-Semitism

Jewish British leaders urge Labour leader to follow through with promise to be a "militant opponent" of anti-Semitism.

Ben Ariel ,

Jeremy Corbyn
Jeremy Corbyn

Jewish British leaders are urging Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to follow through with his commitment to combat anti-Semitism in his party.

“Three weeks ago, we took the unprecedented decision to call upon our Jewish community to go to Westminster and publicly protest against anti-Semitism in the Labour party. In truth, 72 hours before the protest, we had not seriously considered such a thing, but over the quiet contemplation of the Jewish Sabbath, something snapped in both of us, part of the sudden mood swing we felt in our respective synagogues and around our Friday night dinner tables,” wrote Jonathan Goldstein, chair of the Jewish Leadership Council and Jonathan Arkush, president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, in an opinion peace for the Guardian.

“Almost every day of the previous week, there had been some story relating to Labour’s poor handling of the anti-Semitism allegations that have dogged the party since February 2016. The last straw came when it emerged that Corbyn himself had sought to defend a mural that he has subsequently acknowledged to have been anti-Semitic,” they added.

“With just 24 hours’ notice, our protest was attended by up to 2,000 people from all sections of the Jewish community, and beyond. The mood was more of bemusement, surprise and shock than anger. Bemused individuals who had never been to a protest were wondering what you are supposed to do once you get to one. Surprise that so many had turned up at short notice, despite pressing Passover preparations. Above all, absolute shock that it had come to this.”

“When people accuse the protesters of being anti-Labour, they could not be more wrong. Many of those who came to the protest identify deeply with Labour and that is why they feel so betrayed. From the platform, courageous Labour MPs spoke with great pain, honesty and integrity about the problem. We knew, as did most of the crowd, the huge risk that these MPs were taking for being there. It is these MPs and many other councillors and members who are now the most vital opponents of anti-Semitism. Inevitably, the MPs are now facing a perverse backlash for opposing antisemitism and for caring about their party. Corbyn’s leadership in defense of them will now be a crucial component of his promised commitment to combating anti-Semitism,” wrote the two leaders.

They pointed out Corbyn’s reply letter to them following the protest, in which he vowed to become a “militant opponent” of anti-Semitism.

“Corbyn’s letter laid out a recognition of our concerns and of the specificities of left-wing anti-Semitism. It gave us the grounds to organize a meeting with him to try to build mutual trust and to attempt a constructive conversation that diminishes Labour anti-Semitism rather than worsens it. It should deal with issues of leadership, of education, ensuring an effective, transparent and just disciplinary process and tackling a culture of ‘victim-blaming’ that has severely compounded matters,” wrote Goldstein and Arkush.

“That meeting is now agreed for 24 April. Last month’s protest was a necessary moment of catharsis, as painful for Labour as it was for our community, but we cannot now return to ‘business as usual’. We need this to be a genuine turning point and will do everything we can to make it so. We can achieve this together if Corbyn can fulfil his pledge to be our ‘militant ally’ in the fight against anti-Semitism and demonstrate his understanding that what is now needed is firm action and not just words.”

The Labour leader has repeatedly come under fire in recent years for his failure to properly tackle the anti-Semitism in his party.

Over the last several years, dozens of Labour members have been suspended over their anti-Semitic statements.

Corbyn himself been criticized in the past due to his calling Hamas and Hezbollah his "friends" and for refusing to condemn those two terrorist organizations despite being urged to do so by local Jewish groups.

In 2016, however, the Labour leader said that he regretted making those comments.

More recently, it was revealed that Corbyn had temporarily been a member of a private Facebook group that spread anti-Semitic hate speech. Several other Labour members were a part of that group as well.

Several weeks later, Corbyn’s personal Facebook account was deactivated, though his official public account remains active.