Labour antisemitism causing British Jews to consider leaving country, says leading rabbi

Jonathan Sacks insists he needed to 'issue warning' by comparing Jeremy Corbyn to Enoch Powell

Tom Embury-Dennis
Sunday 02 September 2018 13:34 BST
British Jews are leaving the country because of antisemitism, claims rabbi Jonathan Sacks

A former chief rabbi has said Jews are considering leaving Britain due to the threat of antisemitism in the Labour Party.

In a second outspoken attack on Jeremy Corbyn, Jonathan Sacks accused the Labour leader of contributing to Jews questioning whether Britain was still a safe place to raise children.

It came after footage emerged last week of Mr Corbyn criticising British Zionists, saying they did not understand “English irony”.

“I know of no other occasion in these 362 years where Jews, the majority of our community, are asking ‘is this country safe to bring up our children?’,” Lord Sacks told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show.

“Now this is very very worrying and there’s only one word for it, antisemitism.”

The rabbi’s comments came after an earlier interview with the New Statesman in which he accused Mr Corbyn of the most offensive comments by a senior politician “since Enoch Powell”.

On Sunday, Lord Sacks stood by his assertion, insisting he had to “issue a warning” after seeing antisemitism return to mainland Europe “within living memory of the Holocaust”.

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“Anyone who befriends Hamas and Hezbollah, anyone who uses the term Zionist, loosely, without any care, is in danger of engulfing Britain in the kind of flames of hatred that have reappeared throughout Europe and is massively irresponsible,” Lord Sacks said.

“There is danger that Jeremy Corbyn may one day be prime minister. He is the leader of her majesty’s opposition, and I’m afraid that until he expresses clear remorse for what he has said and what his party has done to its Jewish sympathisers as well as its Jewish MPs he is as great a danger as Enoch Powell was then.”

Asked if he knew of British Jews considering leaving Britain over the issue, Lord Sacks responded, “Of course”.

“When people hear the kind of language that’s coming out of Labour, that’s brought to the surface among Jeremy Corbyn’s earlier speeches, they cannot but feel an existential threat,” he said, adding: “Jeremy Corbyn must repent and recant as quickly as possible so as to regain the trust of the Jewish and general public.”

But John McDonnell, Labour’s shadow chancellor, told Andrew Marr that Lord Sacks had “got it wrong” over claims Mr Corbyn is an antisemite.

“Jeremy Corbyn has made it absolutely clear. We will protect Jewish members of our party from any form of abuse and antisemitism, and we will take action as well,” he said.

“So I just say to Lord Sacks you’ve got it wrong. Come and talk to us. If you sat down with Jeremy Corbyn, I believe you would reach a level of agreement that would help us go forward.”

Mr Corbyn himself has defended the 2013 speech in which he suggested British Zionists do not understand "English irony". He insisted he was referring to a specific group of “pro-Israel activists” and had not used the term Zionist as a “euphemism” for Jewish people.

He claimed he was “now more careful with how I might use the term ‘Zionist’ because a once self-identifying political term has been increasingly hijacked by antisemites as code for Jews”.

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