Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the UK Labour party, faced sharp criticism Tuesday from some of his own lawmakers for attending a Passover event hosted by a Jewish far-left group that has dismissed claims of anti-Semitism in Labour as “faux-outrage” and called for Israel to be “disposed of.”
An unapologetic Corbyn said he had “learned a lot” at the event.
The Seder — the traditional Passover meal — staged Monday night was organized by Jewdas, a group that describes itself as “radical voices for the alternative diaspora.”
Corbyn has been accused of not doing enough to deal with what is seen as a serious problem of anti-Semitism in his party. Last week, after a rally of 1,500 people outside Parliament organized by British Jews in protest at anti-Semitism in the party, he promised to be “a militant opponent of anti-Semitism.”
In a leaked recording from the event, obtained by the political blog Guido Fawkes, attendees could be heard shouting “fuck capitalism” and booing the names of prominent Jews, the website said.
Jewdas has in the past tweeted that “Israel is itself a steaming pile of sewage which needs to be properly disposed of” and last week, in a post to its website, described accusations of Labour anti-Semitism as “faux-outrage greased with hypocrisy and opportunism” that is “the work of cynical manipulations by people whose express loyalty is to the Conservative Party and the right wing of the Labour Party.”
To be fair, Israel is itself a steaming pile of sewage which needs to be properly disposed of. https://t.co/jPRne1dL18
— jewdⒶs // יידהודה (@geoffreyjewdas) December 28, 2017
The Fawkes report said Corbyn was at the event, held in his constituency of Islington, for several hours.
On Tuesday, Corbyn said of the Seder: “It was very interesting talking to a lot of young people about their experiences of modern Britain and I learned a lot. Isn’t that a good thing?”
In the recording, attendees at the Jewdas event can be heard booing the name of Jonathan Arkush, chairman of the Board of Deputies, the official body representing Britain’s Jewish community, the report said.
Last week Jewdas accused the BOD, the Jewish Leadership Council and the Jewish Labour Movement of “playing a dangerous game with people’s lives” after a more than 1,500-strong protest demonstration, held outside parliament, called on Corbyn to do more to tackle anti-Semitism in Labour.
After the Seder, Jewdas tweeted that “tonight reminded us that the reasons we’re Jewish are the same as our reasons for being revolutionaries: our commitment to making this world better than it is now.”
The Jewdas website was offline Tuesday. “Our website is temporarily down due to a surge of interest in socialist, diasporic Judaism,” the organization tweeted. “In the meantime you can donate via PayPal.”
Labour MP John Woodcock said Corbyn was irresponsibly taunting British Jewry.
“This is deliberately baiting the mainstream Jewish community days after they pleaded with him to tackle antisemitism,” he tweeted. “And he must know that meeting them now will give his members the message that the group’s extreme views are ok. Irresponsible and dangerous.”
Fellow Labour MP Angela Smith tweeted that Corbyn’s attendance “reads as a blatant dismissal of the case made for tackling antisemitism in Labour.”
Jewish Labour Movement said in a statement that Corbyn had “truly topped off the worst week on record of awful relations between the Labour Party and the Jewish community. When we called on the leader of our party to show moral leadership, and take decisive action to stamp out anti-Semitism, this is not what we had in mind.”
Party activists, the JLM noted, have been campaigning on behalf of candidates in local council elections. “They do not deserve the indignity of our leader making this situation even worse.”
— Guido Fawkes (@GuidoFawkes) April 2, 2018
The Campaign Against Antisemitism said Corbyn’s attendance at the Jewdas Seder was “a very clear two-fingered salute [the British version of the finger] at mainstream British Jewry.”
“It is hard to imagine how this duplicitous man can claim to be remedying antisemitism within the Labour party,” said campaign chairman Gideon Falter. “Given the antisemitism crisis engulfing the Labour Party, there is absolutely no way that Mr Corbyn can claim that this too was an oversight. The party must consider the message that is sent to British Jews and other minorities by him remaining as leader.”
Karen Pollack, chief executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust, tweeted that Corbyn’s action “was clearly deliberate. No question of intent. Mocking. And disrespectful.”
A spokesman for Corbyn said the leader had attended the Seder in a personal capacity and not as head of the party.
The spokesman also noted that Corbyn “wrote to the Board of Deputies and Jewish Leadership Council last week to ask for an urgent formal meeting to discuss tackling antisemitism in the Labour party and in society.”
Jon Lansman, found of Momentum, a grassroots organization that backs Corbyn and the Labour party, in an interview with BBC Radio 4 played down the gravity of Corbyn’s attendance at the Seder.
“I don’t think this is as significant as it’s being made out,” he said, but he conceded that “it’s certainly not helpful to Jeremy or the cause of opposing anti-Semitism in the Labour Party as it happens… and I think the important thing is that Jeremy is seeking to meet with mainstream Jewish organizations.”
On Monday, the Guardian reported the Momentum leaders had agreed on a statement saying that “Accusations of antisemitism should not and cannot be dismissed simply as rightwing smears nor as the result of conspiracies.”
Last week, speaking with UK’s Jewish News following the rally against anti-Semitism within Labour, Corbyn was faced with questions about his own links to known anti-Semites, past comments on Israel, and associations with vehemently anti-Israel figures.
“I’m not an anti-Semite in any way, never have been, never will be,” he said. “I’ve opposed racism in any form all my life. It’s the way I was brought up, it’s the way I’ve lived my life.”