Antisemitism is vile, says Corbyn after rabbi's criticism
Jeremy Corbyn has reiterated his belief that there is no place in Labour for antisemitism and vowed it would not be tolerated following claims from the chief rabbi that he has allowed the Labour party to become poisoned with antisemitism.
Ephraim Mirvis on Tuesday accused the Labour leader of allowing a “poison sanctioned from the top” to take root in Labour, saying Jews were justifiably anxious about the prospect of the party forming the next government.
The archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, in effect backed the chief rabbi’s criticisms with a tweet highlighting the “deep sense of insecurity and fear felt by many British Jews”.
At the launch of the party’s race and faith manifesto, Corbyn said: “Antisemitism in any form is vile and wrong. It is an evil within our society … there is no place for it and under a Labour government it will not be tolerated in any form whatsoever.
“Labour is a party of equality and human rights.”
He added: “It was Labour also that passed [the] Human Rights Act, that set up the Equality and Human Rights Commission. It’s Labour that has to its very core the issues of justice and human rights within our society.
“And I want to lead a government where it’s absolutely central to everything that we do and that we will do indeed.”
Mirvis, the spiritual leader of the UK’s 62 orthodox synagogues, made a rare intervention in politics to argue that the “soul of the nation is at stake” as the country goes to the polls in just over two weeks’ time.
Writing for the Times, he said it was not his place to tell people how to vote but argued that the way in which the Labour leadership had dealt with anti-Jewish racism was “incompatible with the British values of which we are so proud – of dignity and respect for all people”.
Labour has always strongly denied any suggestion that Corbyn has failed to get to grips with allegations of antisemitism in Labour, pointing to his record as an anti-racist campaigner and moves to overhaul the party’s complaints process.
The Labour leader said: “Sometimes, when people are challenged they say: ‘Are you tolerant of somebody else? Are you tolerant of somebody who has a different face to you or a different appearance to you?’
“I don’t like that word tolerant. I don’t tolerate people. I respect people. So, let’s do it on the basis of respect and inclusion in our society.
“Respect. Respect and inclusion for people of all faiths and of none, and of all backgrounds and none, and recognise that diversity is something that we can be actually very, very proud of.
“But let’s also be clear: abuse and racism in any form is not acceptable in any way in our society.”
At the launch, the Labour peer Lord Dubs, who came to the UK as a child refugee in 1939, said Labour was “moving forward” on antisemitism and expressed “bitter disappointment” at the rabbi’s words.
“I am bitterly disappointed by what he said. I don’t accept a lot of what he said, in so far as the Labour party should have acted a lot quicker. But today of all days, for the chief rabbi to be attacking our leader, it is unjustified, unfair and I am bitterly, bitterly disappointed that he has done it,” he said.
If Labour achieves power, the party is planning a new body to oversee the legacy of colonialism, a race equality unit at the Treasury and reduced charges for Home Office documents and tests.
The policies, launched by Corbyn, Dawn Butler, the shadow equalities secretary, and Diane Abbott, the shadow home secretary, come after a consultation launched by Butler at the party conference in September.
Among the policies is the creation of what would be called an emancipation educational trust. Based around examining historical injustice, it would ensure that the role of the British empire is taught in schools.
Other ideas include a race equality unit at the Treasury to review spending commitments for their impact on black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities, and to end what Labour calls “rip-off charges” for passports, visas and tests from the Home Office.
The plan, some elements of which appear in the main Labour manifesto, would also cover a review into the lack of BAME teachers in schools, and an outside review into the issue of far-right extremism.
Appearing on a stage at the Bernie Grant arts centre, Tan Dhesi, who is hoping to be re-elected as MP for Slough, said the new race manifesto would also call for an independent inquiry into the storming of the golden temple and an official apology for the 1919 Amritsar massacre.
Abbott reminded Labour activists that they, like the late MP Grant, who entered parliament at the same time as her in 1987, should not back down on their beliefs if they were criticised by others. “It is important to remember that just because you are vilified in the here and now does not mean that you are not right,” she said.
Rajeev Syal and Kate Proctor