Pressed repeatedly, UK’s Corbyn finally says sorry for anti-Semitism in Labour

Pressed repeatedly, UK’s Corbyn finally says sorry for anti-Semitism in Labour

Reluctantly apologizing to Jewish community over his handling of anti-Semitism, party leader in TV interview then says he has dealt with the issue and other parties also affected

Opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn gives a speech at Whitby Leisure Centre in Whitby, northern England, on December 1, 2019 during a general election campaign visit. (Paul ELLIS / AFP)
Opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn gives a speech at Whitby Leisure Centre in Whitby, northern England, on December 1, 2019 during a general election campaign visit. (Paul ELLIS / AFP)

Jeremy Corbyn said Tuesday that he was “sorry for everything that has happened” regarding the ongoing tensions between his Labour Party and the British Jewish community, seeking to put to bed long-simmering criticism of his party’s handling of anti-Semitism within its ranks ahead of general elections on December 12.

The comment, made after repeated prodding by a reporter, came just over a week after Corbyn refused several times to apologize during a BBC interview, following extraordinary comments from the country’s chief rabbi about anxiety gripping the Jewish community.

Appearing Tuesday on the ITV channel’s “This Morning” show, Corbyn was again asked if he was prepared to apologize for anti-Semitism in Labour.

“Our party,” began Corbyn, but he was interrupted by presenter Philip Schofield who pressed him, saying “No, just say sorry.”

“Can I just make it clear our party and me do not accept anti-Semitism in any form,” Corbyn tried again but was stopped by Schofield.

“So are you sorry?” Schofield said.

“Obviously I’m very sorry for everything that’s happened but I want to make this clear I am dealing with it,” Corbyn replied. “I have dealt with it.”

“Other parties are also affected by anti-Semitism,” he continued. “Candidates have been withdrawn by the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives and by us because we do not accept it in any form whatsoever.”

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.

Corbyn also said he would be happy to meet UK Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, who last week said in a Times newspaper opinion piece that “a new poison – sanctioned from the top – has taken root in the Labour Party,” without mentioning Corbyn by name.

Mirvis took an unprecedented stand against Labour ahead of December 12’s election, expressing fear for the fate of Jews in the country should Corbyn become prime minister. 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.

“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?” Mirvis 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,” he added, explaining his bombshell intervention by saying that “challenging racism is not a matter of politics, it goes well beyond that.”

“I think the chief rabbi’s comments really ought to be taken for what they are,” Corbyn said of Mirvis. “He hasn’t contacted me. I’m very happy to meet him. Very happy to talk to him.”

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)

Speaking to the BBC’s Andrew Neil on November 26, Corbyn was pressed repeatedly to apologize to the Jewish community but didn’t do so.

“What I’ll say is this: I am determined that our society will be safe for people of all faiths,” Corbyn said in the interview, declining to specifically address the idea of apologizing.

Defending himself the next day against a backlash for not clearly apologizing, Corbyn said that his party had already done so.

In a 2018 Facebook post Corbyn wrote that he was “sincerely sorry” for the pain caused by the row over anti-Semitism.

“Labour is an anti-racist party and I utterly condemn antisemitism, which is why as leader of the Labour Party I want to be clear that I will not tolerate any form of antisemitism that exists in and around our movement. We must stamp this out from our party and movement,” Corbyn said in the post published as Jewish leaders prepared to protest against him outside the Houses of Parliament.

Much of the worry over Corbyn is spurred by revelations about his 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.

In a widely viewed documentary aired by the BBC this summer, former Labour staff members recounted being subjected to anti-Semitic abuse, and alleged that senior party officials interfered in investigations of complaints.

In an election campaign video by Labour championing diversity and the rights of over 20 groups, posted by Corbyn on Saturday, there was no mention of Jews.

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