The UK’s Chief Rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis, waded in to the Labour Party’s ongoing anti-Semitism row, calling the problem “severe” in the party ranks.
“There are many people, from all sectors of our society, who are demanding more responsibility, particularly from our politicians, for stamping out racism and anti-Semitism,” Mirvis wrote in a letter, according to The Telegraph.
“The Labour Party has a long and proud history of doing precisely that. Yet, comments from senior and longstanding members of the party, both Jewish and not, show just how severe the problem has now become,” he added.
Mirvis’s remarks came a day after The Telegraph reported that the Labour party has “secretly suspended” 50 of its members for anti-Semitic and racist comments. Labour chairman Jeremy Corbyn conceded for the first time Monday that the party does have a problem with anti-Jewish sentiment, but insisted that it is “not a huge problem.”
A string of Labour politicians have been publicly suspended recently for making anti-Semitic remarks, among them former London mayor and close Corbyn ally Ken Livingstone, who said Thursday that Hitler supported Zionism before he “went mad and ended up killing 6 million Jews.”
Livingstone’s comments caused a firestorm, prompting historians to come out and correct Livingstone’s warped version of history.
“Zionism is a movement celebrated by people right across the political spectrum, all over the world,” Mirvis wrote, “and requires no endorsement or otherwise of the particular policies of any Israeli government at any time.”
“But to those people who have nevertheless sought to redefine Zionism, who vilify and legitimize it, be under no illusions – you are deeply insulting not only the Jewish community but countless others who instinctively reject the politics of distortion and demonization,” he added.
Livingstone, who has refused to apologize for the comments on Zionism and Hitler, was defending party MP Naz Shah, suspended a day earlier for her own 2014 Facebook post calling for Israel to be dismantled. On Monday, a further three party politicians were suspended for anti-Semitic and anti-Israel remarks.
According to the Telegraph, the public suspensions “are said to be just the tip of the iceberg.”
The report said that Labour’s small compliance unit, which vets new members in order to weed out unsuitable candidates, is struggling to deal with the vast numbers of “hard-left supporters” who have joined in the wake of Corbyn’s September election as leader.
“The compliance unit has actually suspended 50 members in the past two months,” The Telegraph said. “They include up to 20 members within the past two weeks alone.”
Corbyn said Monday that only a “very small number of people” had made controversial remarks about Jews and Israel.
“What there is is a very small number of people that have said things that they should not have done,” he told the left-leaning Mirror newspaper. “We have therefore said they will be suspended and investigated.”
Among those suspended Monday was Shah Hussain, a councilor for the northern town of Burnley, who in July 2014 directed a series of Twitter posts at Israeli soccer player Yossi Benayoun, then coming to the end of his career in the UK, calling him a “complete and utter plonker” and saying he and Israel were “doing the same thing that hitler [sic] did to ur race in ww2.”
The head of Israel’s Labor Party Isaac Herzog condemned the British Labour members’ comments, saying he was “weighing suspending ties and it would appear that there won’t be any other choice, despite the fact that it’s clear that most party members are friends of Israel and that these statements represent just a small and loud minority within it.”
Speaking at a May Day event on Sunday, Corbyn rebuffed calls to denounce contacts with terror groups Hamas and Hezbollah, while repeating his declaration that the Labour Party is against anti-Semitism.
But as Labour attempted to push back against efforts to label it anti-Semitic, it also came under fire for Corbyn’s past contacts with Hamas and Hezbollah, both sworn to Israel’s destruction.
A statement from Corbyn’s spokesperson said he would continue to engage such groups, while denying that doing so was tantamount to an endorsement.