British Jewish leaders have told Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn that they will only agree to his request for a meeting if he fulfills a number of conditions on tackling anti-Semitism within his party.
The Board of Deputies and the Jewish Leadership Council said the meeting, which Corbyn proposed after they organized a rally this week against anti-Semitism within Labour, would only happen if the opposition leader took a number of public steps first.
“For whatever reasons, you have not, until now, seemed to grasp how strongly British Jews feel about the situation,” the two groups said in a letter sent Wednesday to Corbyn referencing his response to Monday’s rally, in which he pledged to be “a militant opponent of anti-Semitism” and said he would meet with Jewish leaders in the coming days.
“Your letter was a welcome change in this regard, but only if it kick starts strong actions and leadership against the problem,” Board of Deputies president Jonathan Arkush and Jewish Leadership Council chair Jonathan Goldstein wrote to Corbyn.
During Monday’s event, around 1,500 protesters massed outside the British parliament. It was an unprecedented rally organized by the usually publicity-averse Anglo-Jewish leadership, and attendees bore signs reading “No to anti-Semitism,” as pressure ramped up on Labour and its leader.
“These were unprecedented steps on our part and we hope you understand the seriousness of such a communal action. It arose from nearly three years of cumulative anger and despair in the Jewish community at repeated, numerous cases of antisemitism in the Labour Party and failures to deal with them in a decisive, swift and public manner,” Arkush and Goldstein wrote.
They outlined a number of concrete steps they said Corbyn must make before meeting with them.
Firstly, they said, Corbyn must take personal responsibility for tackling anti-Semitism in his party, because “only your voice can persuade your followers that this is a necessary and correct course of action.”
To do so, he must appoint an independent commission to oversee those efforts which will give regular updates to both Labour and Jewish community leaders.
In addition, Corbyn must commit to not to share a platform with members of the party accused of anti-Semitism, including controversial ex-London mayor Ken Livingstone.
“Ken Livingstone really cannot remain. His views are shameful and disreputable. He will have to go,” Arkush told the Monday rally, according to the report.
Labour suspended Livingstone in April 2016 after he claimed that Adolf Hitler was initially a supporter of Zionism “before he went mad and ended up killing 6 million Jews.” Earlier this month, the party extended his 2-year suspension pending the results of an internal investigation.
Arkush and Goldstein also said Corbyn must publicly distance himself from criticism of Labour lawmakers who attended Monday’s protest. Some of the MPs have been subjected to abuse on their social media pages amid accusations that the rally was more about attacking Corbyn than pleading for action against discrimination, the Guardian newspaper reported Wednesday.
The Corbyn-backing blog Skwakbox emailed five Labour MPs who were at the rally demanding to know what actions they had taken against other forms of racism, in what was seen as a suggestion that their participation was political rather than principled.
In response, over 40 MPs and political figures published an open letter Tuesday on the Huffington Post website accusing Skwakbox of bullying those who took part in the protest.
David Lammy, MP for Tottenham, was one of those who attended the protest rally. A private Facebook page for Labour Party members in his constituency has received a number of posts calling for him to be replaced, the Guardian said.
In their letter Wednesday, the Jewish leaders related to this issue too: “People inside and outside the Jewish community are repeatedly subjected to abuse and insults for raising the issue of antisemitism in the Labour Party. This even affects those Labour MPs who showed their solidarity with the Jewish community on Monday,” they wrote. “This is a disgrace: nobody should be vilified for opposing antisemitism. Those Labour Party members and Labour-supporting blogs pushing the abuse are largely doing so in your name.
“They need to hear you say, publicly and in your own voice, that we had every right to protest about antisemitism, and that Labour MPs had every right to support us; that our concerns about antisemitism are sincere and not a ‘smear’ as has been widely alleged (including on your own Facebook page); and that anyone directing abuse, intimidation or threats at those of us who oppose antisemitism is damaging your efforts to eliminate it and to start rebuilding trust. We firmly believe that this must happen urgently, and certainly before we can meet.”
In an interview with the UK’s Jewish News on Wednesday, Corbyn stressed that “People have the right to speak out and the right to demonstrate” and that “Any abuse that’s done is not done in my name.” He also rejected an assertion, made by counter-demonstrators Monday, that the Jewish community-led rally was a bid to “smear” him personally, saying: “Of course it’s not a smear.”
Allegations of Labour anti-Semitism have grown since Corbyn, a pro-Palestinian socialist, was elected leader of Britain’s main opposition party in 2015.
Some in the party say Corbyn, a longtime critic of Israeli actions against the Palestinians, has allowed abuse to go unchecked.
The latest furor erupted over a six-year-old Facebook post by Corbyn supporting the artist behind a street mural that included anti-Semitic stereotypes.
Corbyn has said he regrets not looking closely at the “deeply disturbing and anti-Semitic” mural before offering support to the artist.
Corbyn wrote that “anti-Semitic attitudes have surfaced more often in our ranks in recent years, and that the party has been too slow in processing some of the cases that have emerged.”
He said he was “sincerely sorry for the pain which has been caused,” and vowed Labour would have “zero tolerance for anti-Semites.”
Agencies contributed to this report.