The new leader of Britain’s Labour party, who is regarded as hostile to Israel and has been accused of tolerating anti-Semitism, said he has some Jewish ancestry.
Jeremy Corbyn told The Church Times on Friday that while his immediate family is Christian, he has a “Jewish element” in his background, the UK’s Jewish News reported.
In the interview with the Christian publication, Corbyn described himself as “not anti-religious at all,” adding, “I go to churches, I go to mosques, I go to temples, I go to synagogues. I find religion very interesting. I find the power of faith very interesting. I have friends who are very strongly atheist and wouldn’t have anything to do with any faith; but I take a much more relaxed view of it. I think the faith community offers and does a great deal for people. There doesn’t have to be wars about religion; there has to be honesty about religion. We have much more in common than separates us.”
Asked if there was any religion in his own family, Corbyn replied: “Yeah, there was. My mum was a Bible-reading atheist — no, agnostic, probably. She had been brought up in a religious environment, and her brother was a vicar, and there was quite a lot of clergy in her family. Going back a lot further, there is a Jewish element in the family, probably from Germany. My father was a Christian, and attended church; and the school that I went to was religious — we had hymns and prayers every morning.”
Corbyn is patron of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign. Recently he faced a television grilling when an interviewer questioned whether he called the terror groups Hamas and Hezbollah “friends.” Corbyn replied that he used the word in a “collective way” and did not agree with the actions of the two groups. But he said he believed “you have to talk to people with whom you may profoundly disagree” to bring about a peace process.
A Jewish MP said earlier this week that she joined Corbyn’s shadow cabinet after having a “full and frank discussion” with him. Luciana Berger agreed to serve as the shadow mental health secretary for Corbyn, 66, was elected on September 12 as party leader in a landslide vote.
Berger told the Jewish Chronicle on Wednesday that the decision to work with Corbyn was “not easy – I cannot honestly say I agree with everything the new leader has said over the years.”
Corbyn’s overtures to radical Islamists and anti-Israel sentiments have caused concern among British Jews.
In an interview with the anti-Israel site Electronic Intifada late month, Corbyn said he would impose an arms embargo on Israel should he become prime minister and asserted that Israeli universities involved in arms research should be boycotted.
He also advocated for the right of return for Palestinian refugees, saying it was a “key” element in any peace process.
Last month, the Jewish Chronicle claimed that Corbyn was linked to “Holocaust deniers, terrorists and some outright anti-Semites.”
“We are certain that we speak for the vast majority of British Jews in expressing deep foreboding at the prospect of Mr. Corbyn’s election as Labour leader,” the newspaper editorialized.
A senior Jewish member of the Labour Party said in August that Corbyn’s views are cause for “serious concern.”
Ivan Lewis, the shadow, or minority, party cabinet minister who is also a former chief executive of the Manchester Jewish Federation, urged his party not to vote for Corbyn.
“Some of [Corbyn’s] stated political views are a cause for serious concern,” Lewis said in letter to his local party members on Friday, according to the Guardian. “At the very least he has shown very poor judgment in expressing support for and failing to speak out against people who have engaged not in legitimate criticism of Israeli governments but in anti-Semitic rhetoric.”
Corbyn has hit back at some of the criticism for his associations.
Calling Holocaust denial “vile and wrong,” Corbyn said a pro-Palestinian activist he donated money to had not publicly denied the Holocaust at the time of their meeting 15 years ago. Regarding ties to Israeli Islamist Raed Salah, he said the sheikh had not espoused anti-Semitic views at the time of their meeting.