Hundreds of protestors packed London’s Parliament Square on Monday evening to call for an end to antisemitism in the Labour Party, as the party’s leader, Jeremy Corbyn, published a letter saying he is and will continue to be an ally in the fight against antisemitism.
British Jews criticise Labour's Corbyn over antisemitism, March 27, 2018 (Reuters)
Corbyn was responding to a letter that leaders of Britain’s Jewish community hand-delivered to a meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party, decrying Corbyn’s “systematic failure to understand and deal with antisemitism.”
The latest incident involved the revelation that the party leader had, six years ago, supported a public mural
that has been deemed antisemitic.
The mural, titled “Freedom for Humanity,” depicted a group of businessmen and bankers, some of whom were obviously Jewish, counting money around a Monopoly- style board balanced on the backs of working-class men.
Over the weekend, Corbyn said he had been wrong in defending the mural painter’s artistic freedom. “I sincerely regret that I did not look more closely at the image,” he said in a statement. He also apologized for “pockets of antisemitism” in his part.
“Today, leaders of British Jewry tell Jeremy Corbyn that enough is enough,” said a letter issued by the umbrella organizations of British Jewry, the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Jewish Leadership Council.
Representatives of the groups gathered in Parliament Square at 5.30 p.m. local time to address members of the Jewish community before going to the Parliamentary Labour Party meeting. Many non-Jews also attended the rally to show their support.
Protesters chanted “Enough is enough” and held signs reading “Dayenu” – the name of a song sang on Passover that means “It would have sufficed,” or in this case, “Enough already.”
The European Jewish Congress, an affiliate of the Board of Deputies, and the Anti-Defamation League also expressed their solidarity with the UK Jewish community.
“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,” the letter from the UK Jewish leaders reads.
It also criticized a “repeated institutional failure” to properly address Jewish concerns and to tackle antisemitism.
The letter cited as the most glaring example the Chakrabarti Report, which cleared the Labour Party of institutional antisemitism.
“Jeremy Corbyn did not invent this form of politics, but he has had a lifetime within it, and now personifies its problems and dangers,” the letter continues.
“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.”
The letter attacked Corbyn’s displays of friendship with terrorist groups like Hezbollah and Hamas as well as with figures “with blatantly antisemitic views.”
“Again and again, Jeremy Corbyn has sided with antisemites rather than Jews,” the groups charged. “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.”
The groups lamented that not a day passes without some sort of antisemitic slander bring uttered by members of the Labour Party and demanded Corbyn take action and “demand that all this stops.”
In his response, Corbyn repeated an offer made over the weekend to meet with Board of Deputies president Jonathan Arkush and Jewish Leadership Council chairman Jonathan Goldstein, to discuss the issues raised in their letter. Arkush and Goldstein have not yet responded to the invitation but are expected to do so in the next couple of days.
“I recognize that antisemitism has surfaced within the Labour Party, and has too often been dismissed as simply a matter of a few bad apples,” Corbyn wrote. “This has caused pain and hurt to Jewish members of our party and to the wider Jewish community in Britain. I am sincerely sorry for the pain which has been caused, and pledge to redouble my efforts to bring this anxiety to an end.”
He acknowledged that while antisemitism is easily detectable on the far Right, a deep understanding of what constitutes antisemitism is lacking in the Labour movement.
Corbyn went on to acknowledge what is described as the “new antisemitism,” which is antisemitism disguised as anti-Zionism.
“Newer forms of antisemitism have been woven into criticism of Israeli governments,” Corbyn wrote.
He added that while criticism of Israel, “particularly in relation to the continuing dispossession of the Palestinian people” cannot be avoided, comparing Israel to the Nazis, attributing criticisms of Israel to Jewish characteristics or using abusive language such as “Zio” to describe supporters of Israel all constitute aspects of antisemitism. “Jewish people must not be held responsible or accountable for the actions of the Israeli government,” Corbyn asserted.
He acknowledged that the party has been too slow in processing some of the cases of antisemitism that have emerged and vowed to work to speed up procedures, to deal with cases of antisemitic abuse or attitudes.
Corbyn said the battle against antisemitism should never become a party political issue and concluded: “I will never be anything other than a militant opponent of antisemitism. In this fight, I am your ally and always will be.”