A British Labour Party spokesperson slammed former UK Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks for branding the party’s leader, Jeremy Corbyn, a dangerous anti-Semite. The spokesman dismissed Lord Sacks’ comments as absurd and offensive.
In a devastating critique of the opposition leader on Tuesday, Sacks accused Corbyn of giving “support to racists, terrorists and dealers of hate, who want to kill Jews and remove Israel from the map.” The Labour leader, Sacks said, uses “the language of classic prewar European anti-Semitism.”
Corbyn has been under mounting attack for his own allegedly anti-Semitic positions and for failing to root anti-Semitism out of Labour, Britain’s main opposition party.
The comments that sparked Sacks’s denunciation were made by Corbyn in a 2013 speech at the Palestinian Return Centre in London, where Corbyn said of a group of British “Zionists”: “They clearly have two problems. One is they don’t want to study history and, secondly, having lived in this country for a very long time, probably all their lives, they don’t understand English irony either.”
In an interview with the New Statesman magazine, Lord Sacks, who served as chief rabbi from 1991 to 2013, called those remarks “the most offensive statement made by a senior British politician since Enoch Powell’s 1968 ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech.”
But a Labour spokesperson rejected the comparison on Wednesday, saying in a statement that the “comparison with the race-baiting Enoch Powell is absurd and offensive. Jeremy Corbyn described a particular group of pro-Israel activists as Zionists, in the accurate political sense, not as a synonym or code for Jewish people.”
The spokesperson added: “Jeremy Corbyn is determined to tackle anti-Semitism both within the Labour Party and in wider society and the Labour Party is committed to rebuilding trust with the Jewish community.”
British Prime Minister Theresa May also weighed in on the issue for the first time. Speaking from Nigeria on a state visit Wednesday, May said, “Anti-Semitism is racism. We should all condemn racism in all its forms.
“Lord Sacks was a long-standing chief rabbi, he raised significant concerns but it’s not just him — members of the Labour Party have raised concerns as well. I think the leader of the Labour Party needs to respond to those concerns,” she said.
In his comments, Sacks said Corbyn’s 2013 statement was “divisive, hateful and like Powell’s speech it undermines the existence of an entire group of British citizens by depicting them as essentially alien.”
“We can only judge Jeremy Corbyn by his words and his actions,” Sacks went on.
Interpreting Corbyn’s comment about “Zionists” as a thinly veiled reference to Jews, Sacks said: “When he implies that, however long they have lived here, Jews are not fully British, he is using the language of classic pre-war European anti-Semitism. When challenged with such facts, the evidence for which is before our eyes, first he denies, then he equivocates, then he obfuscates. This is low, dishonest and dangerous.”
Warned Sacks: “He has legitimized the public expression of hate, and where he leads, others will follow.
“Now, within living memory of the Holocaust, and while Jews are being murdered elsewhere in Europe for being Jews, we have an anti-Semite as the leader of the Labour Party and her majesty’s opposition. That is why Jews feel so threatened by Mr Corbyn and those who support him.
“For more than three and a half centuries, the Jews of Britain have contributed to every aspect of national life,” Sacks noted. “We know our history better than Mr. Corbyn, and we have learned that the hate that begins with Jews never ends with Jews. Mr. Corbyn’s embrace of hate defiles our politics and demeans the country we love.”
Corbyn’s 2013 remarks, which resurfaced last week, have prompted a fresh wave of criticism of him, including from some Labour MPs. Corbyn last week claimed that he had used the word Zionist “in the accurate political sense and not as a euphemism for Jewish people.”
Sacks spoke days after a petition was launched by a British anti-Semitism advocacy group calling for Corbyn’s resignation.
The Campaign Against Antisemitism, founded in 2014, insisted “Jeremy Corbyn must go.” It urged Labour’s lawmakers to act, noting that “only 52 Labour MPs [are needed] to propose a challenger, or Labour MPs could propose a vote of no confidence, or set up their own political party. We call on the Parliamentary Labour Party to take action.”
The petition, which has gained more than 30,000 signatures, was posted to the change.org website on Saturday, the same day a Labour Party anti-Semitism campaign group filed a formal complaint against Corbyn over his 2013 “Zionists” speech.
The CAA petition railed against “events from Jeremy Corbyn’s disturbing past” that “have trickled into the light.”
On Friday, The Times of London published an editorial calling Corbyn “straightforwardly antisemitic,” and concluding that his comments should “render him ineligible for membership, let alone leadership, of a democratic party and for public office.”
The 2013, a Hamas-endorsed conference featured several controversial speakers, including one who advocated boycotting Holocaust Memorial Day and another who blamed Israel for the 9/11 terror attacks in New York.
The resurfacing of Corbyn’s 2013 speech was met with backlash from a number of Labour MPs and Jewish figures, with the editor of the Jewish Chronicle saying, “It’s almost impossible to read this as anything other than a reference to Jews.”
The incident is the latest of a string of revelations detailing Corbyn’s antipathy for the Jewish state, and highlights the widening gap between the British left and the country’s Jewish community.
Claims of anti-Jewish prejudice within Labour have grown since Corbyn, a longtime critic of Israel, was elected leader in 2015. UK Jewish groups have accused him of failing to expel party members who openly express anti-Semitic views.
The dispute recently boiled over after the party last month proposed adopting a definition of anti-Semitism that differed from the one approved by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, a move that was met with anger from Jewish groups and the country’s current chief rabbi.
In recent months, photos and videos have emerged of Corbyn and other Labour officials making anti-Semitic and virulent anti-Israel comments.
Two weeks ago, footage surfaced of Corbyn accusing Israel of committing genocide against Palestinians during a 2014 rally, as a Hamas flag waved behind him. Corbyn called the terror group “friends” prior to his election as Labour leader two years ago, a statement he has since walked back.
One of the photos published recently showed Corbyn hosting a panel featuring a senior Hamas officials in 2012, including members convicted of murdering Israelis in terror attacks.
Earlier in August, the Daily Mail published photos of Corbyn in 2014 laying a wreath at the grave of the Palestinian terrorists who murdered 11 Israeli athletes in the 1972 Munich Olympics.