Britain's opposition Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn.
(photo credit: REUTERS/TOBY MELVILLE)
Ahead of a key meeting with representatives of Britain's Jewish community on Tuesday, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn issued his strongest apology to date for the party's failure to adequately deal with antisemitism within its ranks.
"My party and I are sorry for the hurt and distress caused," Corbyn wrote in the London daily newspaper The Evening Standard, published only hours before his meeting with the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Jewish Leadership Council.
Emphasizing recent efforts made to combat antisemitism among Labour members, Corbyn wrote: "In the past fortnight more than 20 individuals have been suspended from party membership, and more are being investigated.
"But we have not done enough to get to grips with the problem, and the Jewish community and our Jewish members deserve an apology," said the Labour leader.
Earlier this month, Corbyn told Britain's leading Jewish community groups that he would welcome a meeting "without any preconditions" to discuss concerns about antisemitism in Labour and would "place no limitations on the points [the groups] would wish to raise."
Expectations before Tuesday's meeting were low, reported British broadcaster ITV, with little progress being made in preparatory discussions on Monday between representatives from the Jewish groups and Seumus Milne, Corbyn's director of strategy and communications.
According to the report, demands made by the Jewish groups for strong Labour action against members accused of antisemitism were answered by the need to follow due process.
The Board of Deputies of British Jews comprises almost 300 representatives elected by synagogues and other Jewish organizations from across the United Kingdom and seeks to advocate for the interests of the Jewish community among British decision-makers.
The Jewish Leadership Council serves as an umbrella organization, bringing together major Jewish organizations to ensure the continuity of the British Jewish community.
The groups rejected an invitation to a "roundtable" meeting between Corbyn and other Jewish community groups scheduled for Wednesday, saying that it has "no agenda for action."
It was rumored that community groups were also displeased by the invitation extended to the Jewish Voice for Labour group, which is perceived to have made light of community concerns over antisemitism in the party.
"After we have had our meeting with Mr. Corbyn on April 24, we will see whether he and the Labour Party have committed to the action we need against antisemitism," said the Board of Deputies and Jewish Leadership Council in a joint statement turning down their invitations.
Labour confirmed on Monday that the meeting had been cancelled due to "the unavailability of the majority of those invited".
The stakeholder manager of Corbyn's office, Laura Murray, apologized for the cancellation and vowed the Labour leadership's commitment "to engaging with the Jewish community."
"We are aware that this may be more appropriately done through a series of smaller meetings," said Murray.
Last week, British members of parliament from both sides of the Conservative-Labour political divide directed their anger at Corbyn in a highly-charged parliamentary debate on antisemitism - the first of its kind in the House of Commons.
Much of the fiercest criticism regarding Corbyn's leadership came from his own party's benches, particularly from Labour's Jewish parliamentarians.