Chief Rabbi Mirvis: antisemitism has taken root in UK's Labour

The party's response has been "utterly inadequate," Mirvis, Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth writes.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and British Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis (photo credit: REUTERS)
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and British Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The poison of antisemitism “sanctioned from the top” has taken root in Britain’s Labour Party, Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis said in an article published on Monday, warning that the “soul of our nation is at stake” in next month’s election on December 12.
Since Britain began its election campaign at the beginning of November, conversation debating the inaction of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and his party over antisemitism has grown louder and more serious.
Writing in an article for Tuesday’s edition of The Times newspaper, Mirvis said that “British Jews are gripped with anxiety.”
Corbyn has been dogged by criticism from members, lawmakers and Jewish leaders that he has failed to tackle antisemitism in the party despite a promise to do so.
“The question I am now most frequently asked is: What will become of Jews and Judaism in Britain if the Labour Party forms the next government?” wrote Mirvis, chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth. “This anxiety is justified.”

He said the response of the party’s leadership as their supporters drove lawmakers, members and staff out of the party for challenging anti-Jewish racism had been “utterly inadequate,” and claims by the party that it was doing everything it could and had investigated every case were “mendacious fiction.”
“It is a failure to see this as a human problem rather than a political one,” he wrote. “It is a failure of culture. It is a failure of leadership. A new poison – sanctioned from the top – has taken root in the Labour Party.”
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby posted a statement online saying: “That the chief rabbi should be compelled to make such an unprecedented statement at this time ought to alert us to the deep sense of insecurity and fear felt by many British Jews. Everyone in our country is entitled to feel safe and secure. They should be able to live in accordance with their beliefs and freely express their culture and faith. As a Church, we are very conscious of our own history of antisemitism. None of us can afford to be complacent. Voicing words that commit to a stand against antisemitism requires a corresponding effort in visible action.”
Welby concluded, “The chief rabbi’s statement provides all of us with the opportunity to ensure our words and actions properly reflect our commitments to mutual flourishing and inclusion, for the common good.”

While convention dictates that the chief rabbi stays away from party politics, Mirvis said, challenging racism went beyond politics.

“How complicit in prejudice would a leader of her majesty’s opposition have to be to be considered unfit for office?” he said. “Would associations with those who have incited hatred against Jews be enough? Would describing as ‘friends’ those who endorse the murder of Jews be enough? It seems not. When December 12 arrives, I ask every person to vote with their conscience. Be in no doubt, the very soul of our nation is at stake.”

A spokesman for Labour, which is trailing Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservatives in the polls ahead of the election, claimed Corbyn – a veteran supporter of a Palestinian state who has called terrorist groups Hamas and Hezbollah “friends” – was a lifelong campaigner against antisemitism.

“A Labour government will guarantee the security of the Jewish community, defend and support the Jewish way of life, and combat rising antisemitism in our country and across Europe,” the spokesman said. “We are taking robust action to root out antisemitism in the party, with swift suspensions, processes for rapid expulsions and an education program for members.”