Jeremy Corbyn throws away opportunities to address Jewish concerns
Labour leader’s approach to anti-Semitism remains a failure of leadership
Britain’s opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn is interviewed by Andrew Neil on the BBC, in London, Britain. Photograph: Jeff Overs/BBC/Handout via Reuters
Jeremy Corbyn had two opportunities on Tuesday to address the concerns expressed by Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis about his fitness for office over his handling of anti-Semitism – and he threw both of them away.
At the launch of Labour’s Race and Faith manifesto in north London, Corbyn fell back on his timeworn defence that he has always opposed racism in all its forms and that his party has improved its procedures for dealing with allegations of anti-Semitism.
And in a BBC interview with Andrew Neil on Tuesday evening, he declined four times to apologise to British Jews for the way he has handled the issue since becoming Labour leader four years ago.
Corbyn’s response appeared to confirm the UK chief rabbi’s view that he does not understand that the problem is not about procedures and cannot be fixed by employing more staff or introducing new processes.
“It is a failure to see this as a human problem rather than a political one. It is a failure of culture. It is a failure of leadership,” Mirvis wrote in The London Times.
The reason many British Jews are anxious about the prospect of a Corbyn government is not because they believe he is personally anti-Semitic – although one poll suggested that most of them do. Nor is it, as some on the left believe, primarily about the Labour leader’s support for Palestinian statehood and his criticism of the policies of the Israeli government.
What worries many Jews is Corbyn’s apparent indifference to the anti-Semitic abuse faced by Jewish MPs and party members and his failure to empathise with them. And although the Labour leader has apologised for some of his own mistakes, such as condemning the removal of a viciously anti-Semitic mural in east London, he has more often responded defensively to related criticism.
Corbyn could have put this issue to rest years ago if he had made a speech like Barack Obama’s in Philadelphia in 2008, which addressed a controversy surrounding his former pastor Jeremiah Wright. The Labour leader’s refusal to apologise for his own failure to protect Jews within his party is not just a political mistake but evidence of his own shortcomings as a leader.