UK opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn ‘sorry’ for tolerating anti-Semitism in his party
Statement comes as about 500 Jewish protesters gathered outside Britain’s parliament accusing Corbyn of allowing anti-Semitism to spread in his party
Britain’s opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has issued his strongest condemnation of anti-Semitism so far as he came under intense pressure from his own backbenchers and the wider Jewish community over his failure to tackle anti-Semitism in the party.
He was forced to step up his response after an extraordinary open letter was published on Sunday by the two leading Jewish organisations, the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Jewish Leadership Council (JLC), accusing him of “siding with anti-Semites” and calling for supporters to stage a show of solidarity outside Britain’s parliament.
As hundreds gathered at Westminster Monday, including dozens of Labour MPs and peers, and a small group of rival demonstrators from Jewish Votes for Labour, Corbyn issued a “sincere apology” that acknowledged that his previous responses had been inadequate.
“I recognise that anti-Semitism has surfaced within the Labour Party, and has too often been dismissed as simply a matter of a few bad apples,” he said.
“This has caused pain and hurt to Jewish members of our party and to the wider Jewish community in Britain. I am sincerely sorry for the pain which has been caused, and pledge to redouble my efforts to bring this anxiety to an end.”
Corbyn’s previous apology merely recognised that there were “pockets” of anti-Semitism in the party. That was rejected as inadequate by Jonathan Goldstein of the JLC, who said the Labour leader had become a figurehead for anti-Semitism.
The issue had flared up again last week after it came to light that in 2012 Corbyn questioned a decision by London local authorities to remove a street mural depicting men in suits with big noses playing Monopoly on the backs of naked people.
“The idea of Jewish bankers and capitalists exploiting the workers of the world is an old anti-Semitic conspiracy theory,” Corbyn wrote in his open letter on Monday.
“I am sorry for not having studied the content of the mural more closely before wrongly questioning its removal in 2012.”
Several Labour members of parliament joined the protest, exposing internal divisions within Labour that had been papered over after Corbyn led the party to a stronger-than-expected showing in a general election last June.
“While Jeremy is not himself anti-Semitic, he has allowed himself to become the poster boy of anti-Semites everywhere,” said veteran Labour lawmaker Margaret Hodge, the daughter of Jewish refugees from Germany and Austria, in a statement.
In their open letter, the Jewish groups denounced what they described as the far left’s “obsessive hatred of Zionism, Zionists and Israel” and gave examples of how that often translated into overtly anti-Semitic language.
They said Corbyn’s “empty statements” condemning anti-Semitism had got nowhere near dealing with the problem.
In his response, Corbyn, a vocal supporter of Palestinian rights and critic of Israel for several decades, acknowledged that anti-Semitism had sometimes been woven into criticism of Israel.
“Comparing Israel or the actions of Israeli governments to the Nazis, attributing criticisms of Israel to Jewish characteristics or to Jewish people in general and using abusive phraseology about supporters of Israel such as ‘Zio’ all constitute aspects of contemporary anti-Semitism,” he wrote.
The Guardian, Reuters