President Reuven Rivlin on Wednesday met with UK Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis in London, days after the British religious leader took an unprecedented stand against anti-Semitism in the UK Labour party and sparked a fresh outcry against the party’s leader, Jeremy Corbyn.
Mirvis in a Monday column in The Times urged voters to see the “new poison” of anti-Semitism that has taken root in the main opposition party, and expressed fear for the fate of Jews in the country should Corbyn become prime minister.
Rivlin expressed support for Mirvis’s “inspiring” work during the meeting.
“Your clear voice and leadership, particularly in the last few days, fills us all with pride,” Rivlin said.
Meeting @ChiefRabbi Ephraim Mirvis this morning, I offered my support for his inspiring work against rising #anti-Semitism and #racism. His clear voice and leadership, particularly in the last few days, fills us all with pride. pic.twitter.com/EMHEuaFoPh
— Reuven Rivlin (@PresidentRuvi) November 27, 2019
“Zero tolerance for anti-Semitism means providing security for Jewish communities, and countering religious extremism. It means insisting that there is no room for anti-Semitism in the halls of power, and no room for incitement on social media. It means effective legislation, and effective Holocaust education,” Rivlin said in a statement.
Rivlin also denounced anti-Semitism in a Wednesday meeting with the UK charity group United Jewish Israel Appeal.
“Since the Balfour Declaration, Israel has shared common history and common democratic values with Britain. It is because of these strong bonds that we are extremely concerned by the rise in anti-Semitism in the UK,” Rivlin said.
The president said he would mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz in January with global leaders to issue a call against anti-Semitism.
In a column published Monday on The Times website, Mirvis said he was compelled to intervene in politics because Britain’s Jews were “gripped by anxiety” over the future of the community and of Judaism in the country amid the prospect of a Labour win in December 12 elections.
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.
“This anxiety is justified. Raising concerns about anti-Jewish racism in the context of a general election ranks among the most painful moments I have experienced since taking office,” the chief rabbi wrote, explaining his bombshell intervention by saying that “challenging racism is not a matter of politics, it goes well beyond that.”
Further stoking the flames, Corbyn repeatedly declined to apologize to British Jewry for his handling of anti-Semitism in his party during an interview with the BBC on Tuesday evening.
The BBC’s Andrew Neil pressed Corbyn several times to apologize to the Jewish community in the wake of Mirvis’s statement that Britain’s Jews were “gripped by anxiety” over the future of the community in the country.
“What I’ll say is this: I am determined that our society will be safe for people of all faiths,” Corbyn said.
Earlier Tuesday, in what was widely seen in Britain as a response to Mirvis’s comments, Corbyn told Labour members, “Anti-Semitism in any form is vile and wrong” and “an evil within our society.”
On Wednesday, following criticism of his BBC interview, Corbyn said that his party had already apologized for anti-Semitism in its ranks.
Polls suggest that just six percent of UK Jews plan to vote Labour. Nearly half say they will “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.
A Jewish candidate for the Labour Party, Ruth Smeeth, said Tuesday that she was being bombarded with death threats, half of which were anti-Semitic. The abuse from both the far-left and far-right had made her afraid to leave her own home, and she no longer went anywhere alone, she said.