Jeremy Corbyn responded today to accusations of antisemitism from the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Jewish Leadership Council. On Sunday in a public letter they had written to the Labour Leader, complaining that “he is repeatedly found alongside people with blatantly anti-Semitic views,” and claiming that Corbyn had ignored concerns of antisemitism “because he is so ideologically fixed within a far left worldview that is instinctively hostile to mainstream Jewish communities.”
“I will never be anything other than a militant opponent of anti-Semitism. In this fight, I am your ally and always will be,” responded the Leader of the Opposition.
An impromptu demonstration on Parliament Square heard Labour MPs such as John Mann vowing to root out antisemitism in the Labour Party today as hundreds turned up holding up placards saying “enough is enough.” There was also a counter demonstration by left wing Jews who claim that Sunday’s letter did not speak for many in the Jewish community who support the Labour Leader and find him a champion against all forms of racism, and highlighted his voting record against antisemitism over his many years as an MP.
Below is the letter from the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Jewish Leadership Council, and underneath the Labour Leader’s response.
The Mural incident they refer to happened in 2012 and was covered in the press at the time, but mentioned again on Friday by Labour MP Luciana Berger who addressed the crowd today outside parliament.
On Friday she posted on social media her demand that the Leader of the Opposition explain his comment back in 2012 on a post by a graffiti artist whose mural in the East End of London was painted over when some locals began to point out that the images of bankers it looked like antisemitic caricatures. The artist known as Mear One had complained on Facebook: “Tomorrow they want to buff my mural Freedom of Expression. London Calling, Public art.”
Corbyn, at the time a backbench MP, replied: “Why? You are in good company. Rockerfeller [sic] destroyed Diego Viera’s [sic] mural because it includes a picture of Lenin.”
The mural, which was removed, pictured bankers playing a game of Monopoly on the naked backs of several workers. The graffiti artist had dismissed accusations that the bankers looked like antisemitic memes of Jews. Luciana Berger’s reposting of the controversy precipitated the latest accusations of antisemitism against Jeremy Corbyn, who later expressed regret at his comment, and opposition to any antisemitic tropes. In 2016, as Labour Leader he instituted an inquiry into antisemitic behaviour in his party chaired by human rights lawyer Sammi Chakrabarti, now a Labour peer.
In today’s letter he addressed the controversy directly, writing:
“While the forms of anti-Semitism expressed on the far Right of politics are easily detectable, such as Holocaust denial, there needs to be a deeper understanding of what constitutes anti-Semitism in the labour movement. Sometimes this evil takes familiar forms – the east London mural which has caused such understandable controversy is an example. The idea of Jewish bankers and capitalists exploiting the workers of the world is an old anti-Semitic conspiracy theory. This was long ago, and rightly, described as “the socialism of fools”.
I am sorry for not having studied the content of the mural more closely before wrongly questioning its removal in 2012.”
This was the letter by the JLC and Board of Deputies:
Today, leaders of British Jewry tell Jeremy Corbyn that enough is enough. We have had enough of hearing that Jeremy Corbyn “opposes anti-Semitism”, whilst the mainstream majority of British Jews, and their concerns, are ignored by him and those he leads.
There is a repeated institutional failure to properly address Jewish concerns and to tackle anti-Semitism, with the Chakrabarti Report being the most glaring example of this.
Jeremy Corbyn did not invent this form of politics, but he has had a lifetime within it, and now personifies its problems and dangers. He issues empty statements about opposing anti-Semitism, but does nothing to understand or address it. We conclude that he cannot seriously contemplate anti-Semitism, because he is so ideologically fixed within a far left worldview that is instinctively hostile to mainstream Jewish communities.
When Jews complain about an obviously anti-Semitic mural in Tower Hamlets, Corbyn of course supports the artist. Hizbollah commits terrorist atrocities against Jews, but Corbyn calls them his friends and attends pro-Hizbollah rallies in London. Exactly the same goes for Hamas. Raed Salah says Jews kill Christian children to drink their blood. Corbyn opposes his extradition and invites him for tea at the House of Commons. These are not the only cases. He is repeatedly found alongside people with blatantly anti-Semitic views, but claims never to hear or read them.
Again and again, Jeremy Corbyn has sided with anti-Semites rather than Jews. At best, this derives from the far left’s obsessive hatred of Zionism, Zionists and Israel. At worst, it suggests a conspiratorial worldview in which mainstream Jewish communities are believed to be a hostile entity, a class enemy.
When Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader of the Labour Party, Jews expressed sincere and profound fears as to how such politics would impact upon their wellbeing. Our concerns were never taken seriously. Three years on, the party and British Jews are reaping the consequences.
Routine statements against anti-Semitism “and all forms of racism” get nowhere near dealing with the problem, because what distinguishes anti-Semitism from other forms of racism is the power that Jews are alleged to hold, and how they are charged with conspiring together against what is good.
This is not only historic, or about what Jeremy Corbyn did before being party leader. It is also utterly contemporary. There is literally not a single day in which Labour Party spaces, either online or in meetings, do not repeat the same fundamental anti-Semitic slanders against Jews. We are told that our concerns are faked, and done at the command of Israel and/or Zionism (whatever that means); that anti-Semitism is merely “criticism of Israel”; that we call any and all criticism of Israel “anti-Semitic”; that the Rothschilds run the world; that Isis terrorism is a fake front for Israel; that Zionists are the new Nazis; and that Zionists collaborate with Nazis.
Rightly or wrongly, Jeremy Corbyn is now the figurehead for an anti-Semitic political culture, based on obsessive hatred of Israel, conspiracy theories and fake news that is doing dreadful harm to British Jews and to the British Labour Party.
Jeremy Corbyn is the only person with the power to demand that it stops. Enough is enough.
This was Jeremy Corbyn’s response today:
Thank you for your letter to the Labour Party concerning anti-Semitism issued as a press statement last night.
First of all, let me acknowledge the anger and upset that provoked it, and repeat my offer of an urgent meeting to discuss the issues you have raised as soon as possible.
I stated yesterday, and repeat today, that I will not tolerate any form of anti-Semitism that exists in or around our party and movement. I am committed to eliminating anti-Semitism wherever it exists.
As I told the Labour Party conference in 2016, anti-Semitism is an evil that led to the worst crimes of the 20th century. Prejudice and hatred of Jewish people has no place whatsoever in the Labour Party, and every one of us has a responsibility to ensure it is never allowed to fester in our society again.
I recognise that anti-Semitism has surfaced within the Labour Party, and has too often been dismissed as simply a matter of a few bad apples. This has caused pain and hurt to Jewish members of our Party and to the wider Jewish community in Britain. I am sincerely sorry for the pain which has been caused, and pledge to redouble my efforts to bring this anxiety to an end.
While the forms of anti-Semitism expressed on the far Right of politics are easily detectable, such as Holocaust denial, there needs to be a deeper understanding of what constitutes anti-Semitism in the labour movement. Sometimes this evil takes familiar forms – the east London mural which has caused such understandable controversy is an example. The idea of Jewish bankers and capitalists exploiting the workers of the world is an old anti-Semitic conspiracy theory. This was long ago, and rightly, described as “the socialism of fools”.
I am sorry for not having studied the content of the mural more closely before wrongly questioning its removal in 2012.
Newer forms of anti-Semitism have been woven into criticism of Israeli governments. Criticism of Israel, particularly in relation to the continuing dispossession of the Palestinian people, cannot be avoided. Nevertheless, comparing Israel or the actions of Israeli governments to the Nazis, attributing criticisms of Israel to Jewish characteristics or to Jewish people in general and using abusive phraseology about supporters of Israel such as “Zio” all constitute aspects of contemporary anti-Semitism. And Jewish people must not be held responsible or accountable for the actions of the Israeli government.
The Labour Party has always opposed anti-Semitism, old and new, and always will. We are proud of our deep historical links with Jewish communities, and to have fought alongside generations of Jewish men and women against fascism, prejudice and discrimination. This is a part of our common heritage from which we will never be separated. But I acknowledge that anti-Semitic attitudes have surfaced more often in our ranks in recent years, and that the Party has been too slow in processing some of the cases that have emerged. Early action has nevertheless been taken, and we will work to speed up procedures, to deal with cases of anti-Semitic abuse or attitudes.
I am committed to making our Party a welcoming and secure place for Jewish people. Zero tolerance for anti-Semites means what it says, and the Party will proceed in that spirit. That demands among other things the overdue full implementation of the recommendations of the Chakrabarti report, including a programme of political education to increase awareness and understanding of all forms of anti-Semitism.
The battle against anti-Semitism should never become a party political issue. It must unite all of us if we are both to honour the memory of the victims of the bestial crimes of the 20th century and build a future of equality and justice for all.
In that spirit, I must make it clear that I will never be anything other than a militant opponent of anti-Semitism. In this fight, I am your ally and always will be.