UK chief rabbi: Election is over but concerns over anti-Semitism, racism remain

UK chief rabbi: Election is over but concerns over anti-Semitism, racism remain

Board of Deputies of British Jews says ‘history will not look kindly’ on Corbyn’s leadership; Jewish Labour Movement blames his ‘moral and political failures’ for stunning defeat

Illustrative: Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis gives a speech as he attends a Holocaust Memorial Day Ceremony at Central Hall Westminster, January 27, 2015. (AP/Chris Jackson)
Illustrative: Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis gives a speech as he attends a Holocaust Memorial Day Ceremony at Central Hall Westminster, January 27, 2015. (AP/Chris Jackson)

British Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, who took an unprecedented stand against the Labour Party ahead of the elections, said Friday that although the vote is over, there are still many challenges that must be faced, including anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.

“The election may be over, but concerns about the resurgence of anti-Semitism very much remain,” Mirvis said in a statement.

“Islamophobia, racism and other forms of prejudice continue to afflict our communities and, as has been well publicized, even our political parties,” he said. “It is vital that we now bring the country together, ensuring that the voices of people from across our society are heard and respected. We must focus on our shared values and leave all hatred and prejudice far behind us.”

In an unprecedented op-ed published last month, 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.

Opposition Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn leaves his home in north London on December 13, 2019. (Tolga Akmen/AFP)

Without explicitly calling on people not to vote for Labour, or mentioning its leader Jeremy Corbyn by name, Mirvis warned that “a new poison – sanctioned from the top – has taken root in the Labour Party.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson, whose Conservative Party beat Corbyn’s Labour in a landslide victory, has in the past been accused of Islamophobia, including saying that burqa-wearing women looked like “letter boxes.”

Despite calls to step aside following the drubbing at the ballot box, Corbyn said he would not stand down immediately as party leader.

“The National Executive will have to meet, of course, in the very near future and it is up to them. It will be in the early part of next year,” he told reporters in his Islington constituency.

He said earlier in the morning he would resign sometime before the UK’s next election.

Board of Deputies of British Jews President Marie van der Zyl said “anti-Jewish racism has been allowed to run amok” in Labour under Corbyn.

“When he eventually steps back, history will not look kindly on Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party, where anti-Jewish racism has been allowed to run amok and some at the highest levels of the party have appeared to collude to protect anti-Semites,” van der Zyl said in a statement.

“We urge the next leader of the Labour Party to act quickly to implement the steps repeatedly recommended by Jewish communal groups to begin solving this crisis and moving our politics forward,” she added.

Illustrative: Marie van der Zyl joins demonstrators at March’s ‘Enough is Enough’ protest at the UK Parliament. (Courtesy)

The Jewish Labour Movement called on Corbyn to step down immediately and blamed his and his supporters “moral and political failures” for the thumping Conservative victory in the election.

“Labour’s failure in this election lies squarely with the Party’s leadership. Because of the public’s rejection of Corbyn as Prime Minister, the confused position on Brexit, or its total failure to tackle anti-Jewish racism, the Party must truly listen,” a statement from the group said.

Jewish Labour MP Ruth Smeeth. (UK Parliament)

It expressed disappointment over the election loss of Labour candidate Ruth Smeeth, the Jewish Labour Movement’s parliamentary chair.

“Ruth has represented the best of Labour over these past few years — unafraid and determined to hold the Party’s leadership accountable for their failure to tackle antisemitism despite the abuse she’s faced,” it said.

A member of Labour Friends of Israel, Smeeth was elected Parliamentary Chair of the Jewish Labour Movement in April this year.

Smeeth was elected to the Stoke-on-Trent North seat in 2015; it has been held by Labour since its creation in 1950.

She earlier blamed Corbyn for her loss, saying his handling of anti-Semitism allegations turned Labour into “the nasty party.”

The Jewish Labour Movement also said the election result “will do nothing to heal a divided country and instead stoke the rising tide of racism, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and hatred within our society.”

Labour suffered its worst result at the polls since 1935, after what Corbyn admitted had been a “very disappointing night.”

Ahead of the elections, many British Jews said the vote was particularly fateful for them because they believe that the Labour Party has become institutionally anti-Semitic under Corbyn, a pro-Palestinian politician who was elected to lead the party in 2015.

Corbyn has been accused of failing to deal with incidents of anti-Semitism within his party, widely alleged to be anti-Semitic himself, was criticized for his reluctance for the party to agree to a definition of anti-Semitism that included some anti-Israel language, and blasted for defending an anti-Semitic mural.

His ties to members of the Hamas and Hezbollah terror groups and photos of him laying a wreath at the grave of a Palestinian terrorist also sparked worries among UK Jews and Israelis, who feared that the Jewish state could lose its close alliance with the UK if Corbyn won.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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