Launching a drive against racism within the party, UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn on Sunday admitted that his party has a “real problem” with anti-Semitism that must be tackled properly, while also claiming that the issue had been exaggerated by some rival parties and media.
“Hatred towards Jewish people is rising in many parts of the world,” Corbyn wrote to his party members in a letter informing them that Labour had set up a page on its website for “educational material” about racism. “Our party is not immune from that poison — and we must drive it out from our movement.”
“While other political parties and some of the media exaggerate and distort the scale of the problem in our party, we must face up to the unsettling truth that a small number of Labour members hold anti-Semitic views and a larger number don’t recognize anti-Semitic stereotypes and conspiracy theories.”
Labour has grappled with anti-Semitism in its ranks since the far-left Corbyn was elected party chief in 2015, with fresh scrutiny coming after a number of former party officials accused him and his allies of interfering in efforts to address the issue, in a BBC program aired earlier this month.
Corbyn has come under prolonged attack — including from within the party — for allegedly allowing anti-Semitism to spread in the left-wing party and for refusing to adopt fully the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism in Labour’s new code of conduct.
In the leaflet published on Labour’s website, under the title “No Place For Antisemitism,” the party lays out “basic tools to understand antisemitism so that we can defeat it.”
It includes a recorded message from Corbyn in which he says, “No one should dismiss the concerns Jewish party members have expressed.”
“We have been slow in processing disciplinary cases of mostly online anti-Semitic abuse by party members,” Corbyn says. “I acknowledge there is a real problem of anti-Semitism that Labour is working to overcome.”
The leaflet begins with a history of anti-Semitism and in referring to the Holocaust declares that “Holocaust denial and revisionism are profoundly antisemitic.”
A section on anti-Semitic conspiracy theories denounces the Protocols of the Elders of Zion as “entirely fabricated,” and as being the basis for many conspiracies about Jews.
“Today, some conspiracy theories substitute Israel or Zionists for Jews, presenting Israel as controlling the world’s media and finances,” the leaflet reads. “These theories ascribe to Israel influence on world events far beyond any objective analysis. Likewise blaming Israel’s faults on its Jewish identity, or holding all Jews in the UK and elsewhere responsible for what Israel does is antisemitic.”
In explaining Zionism, anti-Zionism and their relation to anti-Semitism the leaflet states that “Jewish people have the same right to self-determination as any other people.”
Yet “sensitivities” around concepts of Zionism should not mean limiting legitimate criticism of the Israeli state or its policies” or supporting the Palestinian cause.
“But opposition to the Israeli government must never use antisemitic ideas, such as attributing its injustices to Jewish identity, demanding that Jews in Britain or elsewhere answer for its conduct, or comparing Israel to the Nazis,” Labour advises.
“Many Jews view calls for Israel to cease to exist as calls for expulsion or genocide. Arguing for one state with rights for all Israelis and Palestinians is not antisemitic, but calling for the removal of Jews from the region is. Anti-Zionism is not in itself antisemitic and some Jews are not Zionists. Labour is a political home for Zionists and anti-Zionists. Neither Zionism nor anti-Zionism is in itself racism.”
The web page also includes a link to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance and its definition of anti-Semitism.
The Labour leadership has in the past argued that the definition of anti-Semitism, signed by 31 countries and used by many British institutions, includes legitimate criticism of Israel.
The four clauses rejected by the party relate to unfair singling out of Israel or questioning the loyalty of Jews who support Israel.
Last week, more than 60 Labour peers published a full page ad in the Guardian newspaper publicly accusing Corbyn of overseeing a “toxic culture” of anti-Semitism in the party.
The ad accused Corbyn of “allowing anti-Semitism to grow in our party and presiding over the most shaming period in Labour’s history,” and said he “failed the test of leadership
It came two days more than 200 current and former Labour staffers sent Corbyn a letter demanding he address the ongoing problem with anti-Semitism or step aside.