Presenting his party’s manifesto on race and hate Tuesday afternoon, British Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn sought to defend his record on anti-Semitism, issuing a strong condemnation of bigotry and promising that “under a Labour government it will not be tolerated in any form whatsoever.”
Corbyn’s remarks come on the heels of a highly critical column by British Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, who wrote in The Times on Monday that he felt compelled to intervene in politics because Britain’s Jews were “gripped by anxiety” over the future of the community in the country amid the prospect of a Labour win on December 12.
Without explicitly calling on people not to vote for Labour, or even mentioning Corbyn by name, Mirvis warned that “a new poison – sanctioned from the top – has taken root in the Labour Party.”
“The question I am now most frequently asked is: What will become of Jews and Judaism in Britain if the Labour Party forms the next government?” he wrote.
In what was widely seen in Britain as a response to Mirvis’s comments, Corbyn told Labour members on Tuesday, “Anti-Semitism in any form is vile and wrong” and “an evil within our society.”
“There is no place whatsoever for anti-Semitism in any shape or form or in any place whatsoever in modern Britain and under a Labour government it will not be tolerated in any form whatsoever,” he continued, praising his party’s highly contested handling of anti-Semitism allegations.
“And where cases have been reported to us, in the Labour party we have a rapid and effective system of dealing with them and that process is constantly under review,” he said.
In a widely viewed documentary aired by the BBC this summer, former Labour staff members recounted being subjected to anti-Semitic abuse and alleged that senior party officials interfered in investigations of complaints.
Polls suggest that just six percent of UK Jews plan to vote Labour. Nearly half say they would “seriously consider” emigrating if Corbyn — a man 87% of those polled believe is an anti-Semite — gets to Downing Street.
Jewish groups have accused Corbyn, a far-left politician, of allowing a massive rise in anti-Semitism within the ranks of the party that was once considered the natural home of British Jewry. Thousands of cases of alleged hate speech against Jews have been recorded within Labour since 2015, when Corbyn was elected to lead the party.
Much of the fear of Corbyn is spurred by revelations about his past record that have emerged since he became Labour leader. These include him describing Hamas and Hezbollah as “friends”; defending an anti-Semitic mural in East London; and a seeming willingness to associate with alleged anti-Semites, terrorists and Holocaust-deniers.
The party is currently being formally investigated by the UK’s anti-racism watchdog. According to The Jewish Chronicle, Labour has questioned the independence of the body, known as the Equalities and Human Rights Commission.
The Church of England expressed support for the Jewish community following Mirvis’s op-ed, with Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby tweeting that “none of us can afford to be complacent. Voicing words that commit to a stand against antisemitism requires a corresponding effort in visible action.”
The Muslim Council of Britain also issued a statement, saying that British Muslims “will listen to the Chief Rabbi and agree on the importance of voting with their conscience.” The group also decried the Islamophobia that it said the ruling Conservative Party led by Corbyn’s rival, Boris Johnson, had allowed to “fester in society.”