Being a British Jew who votes for the Labour party under Jeremy Corbyn is like being an American Muslim who votes for Donald Trump, the Jewish former head of BBC Television said in an interview published Saturday, as he weighed into an ongoing row over anti-Jewish attitudes within the opposition party under its new leadership.
Speaking to The Times of London, Danny Cohen expressed deep concern over rising anti-Semitism in Labour, which he said precluded Jews from supporting it.
“If you are Jewish how can you vote for them? How could you? For me it would be like being a Muslim and voting for Donald Trump, how could you do it?” Cohen said, referring to the American presidential hopeful’s call for a ban on Muslims entering the US.
Cohen also slammed what he called a lackluster response from the party to anti-Jewish sentiment within its ranks.
“You have to feel absolutely confident that it is totally unacceptable and it won’t be tolerated and I personally haven’t felt comfortable that it is happening yet in the Labour party,” he said.
Corbyn’s detractors say his past support for enemies of Israel such as Hamas and Hezbollah is now emboldening Labour activists who make anti-Semitic comments, and erodes the Jewish community’s trust in what historically has been a political home for many of its members. Defenders of Corbyn, however, argue that the ejection of such activists illustrates the Labour leader’s determination to fight vitriol and anti-Semitism.
The debate came to a head last month after Jonathan Arkush, president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, said that under Corbyn, “most people in the Jewish community can’t trust Labour.” In an interview with the Evening Standard, Arkush cited a string of incidents of anti-Semitic speech by Labour activists. The British media has reported at least five cases since March.
One case that triggered Arkush’s rebuke involved Vicki Kirby, a party activist who suggested on social media that Adolf Hitler might be a “Zionist god” and that Jews have “big noses.” She was suspended. In another, Aysegul Gurbuz, a London-area politician, was suspended and later resigned after her Twitter account was found to include old posts praising Hitler and Iran’s plans to “wipe Israel off the map.”
Arkush last week accused Corbyn of belittling the party’s alleged anti-Semitism problem.
“We cannot imagine that any other minority’s concerns would be dismissed off-hand in this way,” he said according to the Jewish News of London, adding he was “deeply concerned” over the party’s handling of Jew hatred in its ranks. “In the last few weeks we have witnessed a stream of clear-cut cases of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party, which can’t just be fobbed off as differences over Israel,” he said.
Corbyn has said that any incident of anti-Semitism will be immediately investigated, but senior members of his own party have expressed concern that not enough is being done.
JTA and AFP contributed to this report