Jeremy Corbyn admits Labour has 'real problem' with antisemitism

Labour leader vows to ‘root out’ abuse but criticises claims he poses ‘existential threat’ to UK Jewish community

Benjamin Kentish
Political Correspondent
Friday 03 August 2018 17:46 BST
Jeremy Corbyn on anti-semitism in the Labour Party

Jeremy Corbyn has acknowledged Labour has a “real problem” with antisemitism as he attempted to defuse the row engulfing his party.

The Labour leader admitted the party “hasn’t done enough to foster deeper understanding of antisemitism among members” but vowed to “root out” anti-Jewish abuse.

He told Labour antisemites: “You are not my supporters and have no place in our movement.”

However, Mr Corbyn hit back at claims, made in a joint front page article by three Jewish newspapers, that a Labour government under his leadership would pose an “existential threat to Jewish life” in the UK, describing them as “overheated rhetoric”.

Attempting to begin the process of rebuilding Labour’s relationship with the Jewish community, Mr Corbyn said he was confident a row over the definition of antisemitism in the party’s new code of conduct “can be resolved through dialogue with community organisations”.

A dispute over the definition to be used in Labour’s new code of conduct reignited the row over antisemitism in the party last month, but the Labour leader insisted the party had been right not to adopt the internationally recognised International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition in full.

Mr Corbyn used a newspaper article to break his silence on the antisemitism crisis gripping his party after a torrid week in which he came under sustained criticism for his handling of the issue.

Writing in The Guardian, he said: “I do not for one moment accept that a Labour government would represent any kind of threat, let alone an ‘existential threat’ to Jewish life in Britain, as three Jewish newspapers recently claimed. That is the kind of overheated rhetoric that can surface during emotional political debates.

“But I do acknowledge there is a real problem that Labour is working to overcome. And I accept that, if any part of our national community feels threatened, anxious or vulnerable, not only must that be taken at face value but we must all ensure those fears are put to rest.”

He added: “No one can, or should, try to dismiss or belittle the concerns expressed by so many Jewish people and organisations about what has been happening in the party I am proud to lead.”

He said a Labour government would “take whatever measures are necessary to guarantee the security” of the Jewish community and that he wanted Jewish people to “feel at home in the Labour Party and be able to play their full part in our work”.

Mr Corbyn’s article was criticised on social media after it emerged that chunks appeared to have been copied word for word from a piece he wrote for the London Evening Standard earlier in the year.

The row over left-wing antisemitism deepened earlier in the week when an ally of Mr Corbyn on Labour’s ruling executive was recorded claiming Jewish “Trump fanatics” were behind the dispute.

Mr Corbyn said he would work to ensure Labour members show a “higher degree of empathy with the perspective of the Jewish community” and, admitting that trust between the party and British Jews was at a “low ebb”, added: “Driving antisemitism out of the party for good, and rebuilding that trust, are our priorities.”

He acknowledged Labour had been “too slow” in dealing with cases of antisemitism and said party leaders “haven’t done enough to foster deeper understanding of antisemitism among members”.

Mr Corbyn said Labour staff had seen examples of “Holocaust denial, crude stereotypes of Jewish bankers, conspiracy theories blaming 9/11 on Israel, and even one individual who appeared to believe that Hitler had been misunderstood”.

Speaking directly to antisemites in the party he said: “Our party must never be a home for such people, and never will be. People who dish out antisemitic poison need to understand: you do not do it in my name. You are not my supporters and have no place in our movement.

“It is Labour’s responsibility to root out antisemitism in our party.”

Jeremy Corbyn ally, Peter Willsman, blamed 'Jewish Trump fanatics' for inventing Labour antisemitism

The row over how Labour defines antisemitism in disciplinary matters seems certain to rumble on, with the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) set to force a vote of Labour MPs and peers on the issue when parliament returns in September.

The PLP wants the IHRA definition adopted in full, putting it at odds with the party’s executive committee, which backed plans to not directly include four of the IHRA’s 11 examples of antisemitic behaviour.

Paving the way for a partial U-turn, Mr Corbyn said he only had an issue with “half of one example out of 11”, which is an example stating it is antisemitic to suggest a state of Israel is a racist endeavour.

He accepted the party was at odds with “most of the Jewish community, including many Labour supporters” on the matter, but said the example had “sometimes been used by those wanting to restrict criticism of Israel that is not antisemitic”.

In one of the more controversial parts of his article, Mr Corbyn suggested it was “wrong” to suggest that “anti-Zionism is racism”, just as people in the past had been wrong to claim “Zionism is racism”.

The Labour leader had been expected to deliver a speech next week in an attempt to defuse the antisemitism row but his team appear to have instead opted for a newspaper article. Labour sources would not confirm whether a speech is still being planned.

A spokesperson for the Campaign Against Antisemitism dismissed the Guardian article as “vague and meaningless”.

He said: “There is no acknowledgement of his own role in this crisis. There is no apology for his antisemitic activity in the past, but he has hypocritically condemned as antisemitic behaviour that he himself has been guilty of.

“He has again preached to Jews that he is right to have rewritten the international definition of antisemitism.

“By his action over the years as well as by failing even now to take on board the full concerns of the Jewish community, we remain convinced that Jeremy Corbyn is an antisemite and under his leadership the once anti-racist Labour Party has become institutionally antisemitic and an existential threat to British Jewry.”

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