March 25, 2018
The Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Jewish Leadership Council issue open letter criticising Labour leader
Jewish leaders accuse Jeremy Corbyn of siding with antisemites
Jeremy Corbyn has apologised for what he called “pockets of antisemitism” in his party, as Jewish leaders issued an extraordinary open letter accusing the Labour leader of “siding with anti semites”.
The Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Jewish Leadership Council urged supporters to stage a show of solidarity outside parliament on Monday as Labour MPs hold their weekly meeting — which Corbyn is not planning to attend.
They were spurred into action by the latest row over antisemitism in the party, which saw Corbyn express regret for apparently showing support for the creator of an antisemitic mural in London’s East End six years ago.
In the strongly worded letter, Jewish leaders claim the mural row was just the latest evidence that 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”.
“Again and again, Jeremy Corbyn has sided with antisemites 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,” they say.
As well as the mural, the signatories, Jonathan Arkush, the president of the Board of Deputies, and Jonathan Goldstein, the chairman of the Jewish Leadership Council, cite what they claim is Corbyn’s friendship with Hezbollah and Hamas, and his opposition to the extradition of controversial Muslim cleric Raed Salah.
Corbyn issued his own statement last night, saying he was “sincerely sorry for the pain which has been caused”, by what he called “pockets of antisemitism”.
“Our party has deep roots in the Jewish community and is actively engaged with Jewish organisations across the country,” Corbyn said. “We are campaigning to increase support and confidence in Labour among Jewish people in the UK”.
But the chief executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust said Corbyn’s apology “might be too late”. Karen Pollock told BBC Radio 4’s The Westminster Hour: “When there were examples of Labour party members saying ‘Jews kill and kidnap their way around the world’ or referring to the Holocaust Educational Trust as the ‘Holocaust Indoctrination Programme’ ... was that not enough to make the leader of a Labour party say it’s disgusting and this has to stop?
“I spend time with Jewish people who are concerned about this sort of rhetoric and our leaders shouldn’t have to be put into a corner to say sorry and to say it has to stop.”
Several Labour MPs have said they would like to hear an explanation from Corbyn directly, after Facebook posts emerged in which he appeared to show his support for a antisemitic mural in 2012.
The Labour MP Wes Streeting said: “We can’t have a situation where one of Britain’s political parties is seen as a no-go area for one of Britain’s faith groups.”
Corbyn is not expected to appear in person at the parliamentary Labour party’s regular Monday evening meeting, the last before parliament rises for Easter recess, but he said he would be meeting with Jewish leaders in the coming days and weeks.
On Sunday, the Jewish Board of Deputies and the Jewish Leadership Council issued what they described as a “call to action”, urging “members of our community and all those who oppose antisemitism” to gather in Parliament Square on Monday as Labour MPs meet inside.
The Labour deputy leader, Tom Watson, and Labour’s Brexit spokesman, Keir Starmer, both appeared on the Sunday morning politics TV programmes to condemn the mural.
“I’m very, very sorry that people feel hurt by this and that’s why I think it’s right that Jeremy has expressed regret for it,” Watson told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show. Starmer told ITV’s Peston on Sunday that the image, which was painted on a wall in east London and used noted antisemitic tropes, was “grotesque and disgusting”.
In 2012, Corbyn defended Mear One, the artist who painted the mural, after he posted on Facebook that it was to be scrubbed. Corbyn wrote: “Why? You are in good company. Rockerfeller [sic] destroyed Diego Viera’s [sic] mural because it includes a picture of Lenin.”
Corbyn was criticised after an image of the exchange surfaced, and on Friday his office put out a statement saying he had reacted to “concerns about the removal of public art on the grounds of freedom of speech”.
The statement said the mural was “offensive, used antisemitic imagery, which has no place in our society, and it is right that it was removed”.
A later statement from Corbyn added: “I sincerely regret that I did not look more closely at the image I was commenting on.”
But Watson defended Corbyn on Sunday, saying he had expressed deep regret and apologised. Corbyn’s initial statements voiced regret but offered no apology.

Watson said: “I’m very, very sorry that people feel hurt by this and that’s why I think it’s right that Jeremy has expressed regret for it. He said that he didn’t see the mural, he was talking about free expression and I think now that he has seen the mural, he’s right to say that it was right not just to be removed but that he expresses deep regret for the offence caused by the mural.”
Starmer said the image was “antisemitic and we need to be absolutely clear about that”.
He said: “The most important thing is that the Labour party keeps on saying that antisemitism has no place in our party, in our communities or in our society, and we’ve got to have zero tolerance. And ‘zero tolerance’ has got to be more than two words. It’s got to dictate everything the Labour party does in relation to antisemitism.”
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