ExtremismAntisemitism Unbound

Published 27 November 2019

On Monday, 25 November, the U.K. Chief Rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis, published an article in The Times in which he describes Jeremy Corbin, the leader of the Labour Party – parliamentary election will be held 12 December – as “unfit for office” because of his inability, or unwillingness, to tackle the growing problem of anti-Semitism in the Party’s ranks. Today, 27 November, The Times’s editorial commented on the urgent and unprecedented intervention by the Chief Rabbi. This intervention “is the result of the Labour leader’s inability to comprehend his culpability for an institutional problem,” The Times writes.

On Monday, 25 November, Ephraim Mirvis, Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth – in effect, the U.K. Chief Rabbi – wrote in The Times that Jeremy Corbin, the leader of the Labour Party, is “unfit for office” because of his inability, or unwillingness, to tackle the growing problem of anti-Semitism in the Party’s ranks. Today, 27 November, The Times editorial commented on the urgent and unprecedented intervention by the Chief Rabbi.

Here is The Times’s editorial:

No party leader beforehand has faced such an attack, and no chief rabbi has ever felt moved to launch one. In The Times yesterday Ephraim Mirvis told of a “new poison” within the Labour Party which, he suggested, should lead to Jeremy Corbyn being considered “unfit for office.” The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev Justin Welby, reinforced Rabbi Mirvis’s message, writing that his words “ought to alert us to the deep sense of insecurity and fear felt by many British Jews”.

It’s probably too much to hope that they would also alert Mr. Corbyn. The Labour leader has occasionally been bullied into an irritable admission of his party’s problem, but appears to lack all comprehension that it might have something to do with him. Early in his leadership in 2016 he was confronted on film with an article by the Jewish journalist Jonathan Freedland, which tentatively suggested that his past indicated a blind spot towards antisemitism. “Disgusting subliminal nastiness,” was Mr. Corbyn’s retort, and his views do not appear to have changed.

With grim irony, yesterday was also the day that Labour launched a portion of its manifesto focusing on race and faith. The party’s woes spring from many roots. One is the crass and kneejerk anti-Zionism now embedded in the British left, of which the Labour leader himself is a pioneer. Another is his massive expansion of Labour’s membership, reclaiming comrades from fringe parties farther to the left, some of whom muddle their anti-Zionism into more traditionally anti- Semitic conspiracy theories of malign Jewish power. A third is Mr. Corbyn’s own behavior. From his apparent support for a street mural that depicted Jewish bankers playing Monopoly on the backs of the poor, to his description of Hamas and Hezbollah as “friends”, he has, at best, struggled to notice antipathy towards Jews. The more desperately he denounces antisemitism, the less clear it is that he knows what it is.

Equally damaging has been his apparent unwillingness to tackle a problem that has pushed his party into disgrace. Yesterday Rabbi Mirvis highlighted Mr. Corbyn’s remarks to the BBC that Labour has “investigated every single case” of antisemitism within its ranks. The Chief Rabbi calls this “a mendacious fiction” and numerous reports suggest that there are many outstanding cases. Worse, where high-profile figures have eventually been expelled, such as Ken Livingstone and the former MP for Derby North, Chris Williamson, Mr. Corbyn has made little effort to hide his own equivocation. Earlier this year the Equalities and Human Rights Commission began an investigation into Labour, its first into a party other than the BNP. This, three years after an inquiry by the barrister Shami Chakrabarti found no endemic problem, for which she gained a peerage.

It is convenient cover for Mr. Corbyn that he has, in Boris Johnson, an opponent who has made no shortage of crass gags in his career as a newspaper columnist. Yesterday the Muslim Council of Britain supported Rabbi Mirvis’s intervention, declaring that he “has highlighted the importance of speaking out on the racism we face” before accusing the Conservative Party of a “blind spot” over Islamophobia. While there is little evidence to suggest that party’s woes are institutional rather than anecdotal, this newspaper has long argued that it must take these concerns seriously.

The Labour Party, though, above all should be mortified at the thought that the major proportion of the Jewish community dreads a victory by Mr. Corbyn. Looking to the future, the Conservatives should regard Labour’s disastrous handling of its antisemitism problem as a deeply cautionary tale of precisely what not to do. Mr. Corbyn, meanwhile, must finally comprehend that the buck stops with him.