Jeremy Corbyn concedes Labour has failed to address antisemitism problem | Politics
Jeremy Corbyn has issued his strongest condemnation of antisemitism so far as he came under intense pressure from his own backbenchers and the wider Jewish community over his failure to tackle antisemitism in the Labour party.
He was forced to step up his response during the day after an extraordinary open letter was published on Sunday night by the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Jewish Leadership Council (JLC), accusing him of “siding with antisemites” and calling for supporters to stage a show of solidarity outside parliament as the parliamentary Labour party held its weekly meeting on Monday evening.
At the PLP meeting, backbenchers denied there was any kind of coup attempt. Wes Streeting MP, often a critic of Corbyn’s, said: “No one’s calling for a leadership election. We just want leadership.”
The pressure from backbench MPs began building on Friday when Luciana Berger challenged Corbyn over supportive comments he posted to the artist behind an antisemitic mural. It came to a head on Monday morning when John Mann, chair of the all-party antisemitism group, tweeted that the Labour party “ceases to have a reason for existence if it cannot stand up against discrimination and racism”. He said the party was “rotten to the core”.
His criticism was backed by the veteran former minister Dame Margaret Hodge, who said Corbyn had allowed himself to become “the poster boy of antisemites everywhere”.
As hundreds gathered at Westminster, including dozens of Labour MPs and peers, and a small group of rival demonstrators from Jewish Votes for Labour, Corbyn issued a “sincere apology” that acknowledged that his previous responses had been inadequate.
“I recognise that antisemitism has surfaced within the Labour party, and has too often been dismissed as simply a matter of a few bad apples,” he said on Twitter.
“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.”
Corbyn’s previous apology merely recognised that there were “pockets” of antisemitism in the party. That was rejected as inadequate by Jonathan Goldstein of the JLC, who said the Labour leader had become a figurehead for antisemitism.
Speaking at the solidarity protest outside parliament, the former Labour MP Gillian Merron, who is now chief executive of the Board of Deputies, said Corbyn had only made concessions because he had been forced into it by their actions.
“People here are angry and sad,” she said. “Nobody dreamt they would be in this position. The Jewish community has had enough and we are joined in that feeling by many many people inside and out of the Labour party.”
Later, Louise Ellman, who is a former chair of the Jewish Labour Movement, told BBC Newsnight it was “unprecedented” that the mainstream Jewish community had to take to the streets to protest at antisemitism in a mainstream political party.
In the second letter, Corbyn expressly apologised for failing to study the content of the antisemitic mural in the East End of London before posting supportive comments to its artist.
Jewish leaders claimed in their letter, released on Sunday night, that the controversy proved the Labour leader “cannot seriously contemplate antisemitism, because he is so ideologically fixed within a far-left worldview that is instinctively hostile to mainstream Jewish communities”.
Countering the charge, Corbyn says in his letter: “While the forms of antisemitism expressed on the far right of politics are easily detectable, such as Holocaust denial, there needs to be a deeper understanding of what constitutes antisemitism 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 antisemitic conspiracy theory … I am sorry for not having studied the content of the mural more closely before wrongly questioning its removal in 2012.”
In a much more nuanced recognition of the forms that antisemitism can take, the letter also accepts that anti-Zionism and antisemitism have become conflated.
“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… and using abusive phraseology about supporters of Israel such as ‘Zio’ all constitute aspects of contemporary antisemitism.”
He also promises that the party will implement in full the “overdue” recommendations of the Chakrabarti report,which was published nearly two years ago.
Andy McDonald, the shadow transport minister, insisted that action would be taken. He pledged to speed up the “far too slow” complaints process. He was unable to say how many complaints had been successfully dealt with.