In a meeting with Jewish leaders last month to discuss anti-Semitism in his party, British Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn appeared “bored, uninterested and condescending,” according to an account of the meeting leaked to the UK’s Mail on Sunday.
Corbyn, who has been accused of not doing enough to deal with what is seen as a serious problem of anti-Semitism in his party, lacked the “emotional or intellectual ability” to comprehend the demands of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, Anglo Jewry’s main representative organization, and the Jewish Leadership Council, when he met with the two groups on April 24, the report said.
It said he appeared, at turns, “bored, uninterested and condescending” during the meeting, and only became animated with a “convulsion” when someone in the room told him that he was a “Zionist” for supporting a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The Mail report identified the author of the document summarizing the meeting as an unnamed “Jewish leader.”
“[Corbyn’s] body language was hard to read. He was not especially animated. It may have been pensive, or bored and uninterested,” the document was quoted as saying. “He replied with pre-prepared statements in a monotone. It suggested an emotional, political or intellectual inability to improvise suitable responses. Most of the time he had his chin on his hand and a facial expression somewhere between skepticism, concentration and non-interest.”
In the direct aftermath of the meeting, British Jewish leaders expressed disappointment, while Corbyn hailed it as “positive and constructive,” and vowed to take further steps to combat anti-Semitism in the ranks of his party.
“Our meeting with Jeremy Corbyn today was a disappointing missed opportunity regarding the problem of anti-Semitism in the Labour party,” the UK Jewish leaders said in a statement at the time.
Corbyn, whose Labour is Britain’s main opposition party, “failed to agree to any of the concrete actions we asked for in our letter to him of 28th of March,” they said, adding that his “proposals fell short of the minimum level of action” that was expected of him.
JLC & BoardofDeputies statement following our meeting with Jeremy Corbyn: pic.twitter.com/gMXCwqopPG
— Board of Deputies of British Jews (@BoardofDeputies) April 24, 2018
In March, the Jewish leadership sent a letter to Corbyn outlining six steps he and his party could take to address anti-Semitism. They wrote that these steps represented the “minimum level of action the community expected after more than two years of inactivity.”
The six areas of action they demanded were: “That there should be a fixed timetable to deal with anti-Semitism cases; that they should expedite the long-standing cases involving Ken Livingstone and Jackie Walker; that no MP should share a platform with somebody expelled or suspended for anti-Semitism; that they adopt the full International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism with all its examples and clauses; that there should be transparent oversight of their disciplinary process.”
They said Corbyn did not agree to any of their proposals during the meeting.
By contrast, Corbyn hailed the talks with the British Jewish leaders, saying he was “absolutely committed to rooting out anti-Semitism from our party and our society.”
“When members of Jewish communities express genuine anxieties, we must recognize them as we would those of any other community,” he wrote on Facebook. “Their concerns are not ‘smears.’ Jews belong in the Labour Party and we are utterly committed to making it a safe and welcoming place for them.”
Allegations of Labour anti-Semitism have grown since Corbyn, a pro-Palestinian socialist, was elected leader of the party in 2015.
Corbyn has been accused of not doing enough to deal with what is seen as a serious problem of anti-Semitism. He has himself faced questions about his own links to known anti-Semites, past comments on Israel, and associations with vehemently anti-Israel figures.
Corbyn was recently found to have been a member of a private Facebook group for two years until 2015 that featured many anti-Semitic statements. He said he had not read any of those statements.
Corbyn called Hezbollah and Hamas his friends in 2009 and said it was an honor to host representatives from those terrorist groups in parliament. In 2016 he said he regrets saying that. He has vowed to kick out any Labour member caught making racist or anti-Semitic statements. Dozens were expelled but many others accused of these actions were allowed to stay or were readmitted.
British Jews and an interparliamentary committee of inquiry have dismissed as unsatisfactory an internal Labour audit that largely cleared the party of anti-Semitism allegations.
On March 26, around 1,500 protesters massed outside the British parliament in an unprecedented demonstration organized by the usually publicity-averse Anglo-Jewish leadership. When calling for the protest, an open letter from the Board of Deputies and the Jewish Leadership Council accused Corbyn of siding with anti-Semites “again and again.”
Agencies contributed to this report.