Britain's opposition Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn.
(photo credit: PETER NICHOLLS/REUTERS)
Representatives of Britain’s Jewish community emerged on Tuesday evening frustrated with their long-awaited meeting with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn over repeated incidents of antisemitism in the party.
The talks between Corbyn and the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Jewish Leadership Council, which lasted more than two hours, focused on their requests to take action against antisemitism in the Labour Party.
“Our meeting with Jeremy Corbyn today was a disappointing missed opportunity regarding the problem of antisemitism in the Labour Party,” said a joint statement issued by the groups.
“Words in letters and newspaper articles will never be enough,” they added. “We welcome the fact that Mr. Corbyn’s words have changed, but it is action by which the Jewish community will judge him and the Labour Party.
“Our sole objective from this meeting was to build trust with Mr. Corbyn, but this will not be possible until and unless he and the party turn their many strong words against antisemitism into equally strong actions.”
A statement issued by Corbyn, however, praised “a positive and constructive meeting.”
“We will continue to engage and work with Jewish community organizations to deal with this issue. Our party will not fail our Jewish brothers and sisters,” the Labour leader said.
Ahead of the meeting, Corbyn issued his strongest apology
to date for the party’s failure to deal with antisemitism within its ranks.
“My party and I are sorry for the hurt and distress caused,” he wrote in London’s Evening Standard
, published hours before the meeting.
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.”
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 Seumas Milne, Corbyn’s director of strategy and communications.
According to the report, the Jewish groups’ demands for strong Labour action against members accused of antisemitism received a response about the need to follow due process.
The Board of Deputies of British Jews is composed of 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 had “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 has rejected 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,” the Board of Deputies and Jewish Leadership Council said in a joint statement turning down their invitations.
Labour confirmed on Monday that the meeting had been canceled due to “the unavailability of the majority of those invited.”
The manager of Corbyn’s office, Laura Murray, apologized for the cancellation and vowed the Labour leadership was committed “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 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.