In extraordinary comments made in his final interview before stepping down, one of Britain’s most senior Jewish leaders slammed Jeremy Corbyn, alleging that the Labour leader has anti-Semitic views and that he is causing British Jews to question their future in the country.
In an interview with the Telegraph published Thursday, Jonathan Arkush, the outgoing president of the Board of Deputies, Anglo Jewry’s main representative organization, dismissed claims that the opposition leader’s views on Israel were not related to anti-Jewish sentiment.
Arkush, who met with Corbyn in April to discuss concerns about anti-Semitism in the Labour party, said that for the first time British Jews were asking, “Do we have a future here?”
“Delegitimizing the State of Israel is anti-Semitic,” Arkush said. “He was a chairman of Stop the War, which is responsible for some of the worst anti-Israel discourse.
Stop the War is a British coalition founded to protest what it believes are unjust conflicts. The organization holds frequent protests against Israeli actions in the West Bank and Gaza and has been condemned by Jewish groups in the UK for waving swastika banners and chanting anti-Semitic slogans at demonstrations organized together with the Palestine Solidarity Campaign.
“If he shares the prevalent discourse about Israel, then that view is unquestionably anti-Semitic,” Arkush said.
The comments come at the end of Arkush’s term, which has seen unprecedented tension between the British Jewish community and the Labour party.
Allegations of Labour anti-Semitism have grown since Corbyn, a pro-Palestinian socialist, was elected leader of Britain’s main opposition party in 2015.
Some in the party say Corbyn, a longtime critic of Israeli policies toward the Palestinians, has allowed anti-Jewish abuse to go unchecked.
Arkush said Corbyn would need to tell Jews that he “will not accept a discourse which denies the existence of their own land to the Jewish people… I think we are all entitled to some clarity on his real views about Israel.”
In response, a spokesperson for Corbyn said Arkush’s comments were “personal attacks without any evidence to support them … Jeremy has been absolutely clear that he is a militant opponent of anti-Semitism and is committed to driving it out of our movement.”
The spokesperson also said that the Labour party was working to improve relations with the Jewish community, but maintained that Corbyn’s statements on Israel did not constitute anti-Semitism.
“Jonathan Arkush’s attempt to conflate strong criticism of Israeli state policies with anti-Semitism is wrong and undermines the fight both against anti-Semitism and for justice for the Palestinians,” the spokesman added. “It should be rejected outright.”
A recent furor erupted over a six-year-old Facebook post by Corbyn supporting the artist who painted a street mural that included anti-Semitic stereotypes.
Corbyn said he regretted not looking closely at the “deeply disturbing and anti-Semitic” mural before offering support to the artist.
In response, around 1,500 protesters massed outside the British parliament in March in an unprecedented rally organized by the usually publicity-averse Anglo-Jewish leadership.
In what appeared to be an attempt to heal the rift, Corbyn met with Jewish leaders last month to discuss anti-Semitism in his party; however, according to an account of the meeting leaked to the Mail on Sunday earlier this week, Corbyn appeared “bored, uninterested and condescending.”
He apparently lacked the “emotional or intellectual ability” to comprehend the demands of the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Jewish Leadership Council, when he met with the two groups on April 24, the report said.
According to the report, Corbyn only became animated with a “convulsion” when someone in the room told him that he was a “Zionist” for supporting a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.