Ephraim Mirvis, the Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth, has today issued a strong criticism of the problem of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party.
Writing in the Times, he expressed his horror at “a new poison – sanctioned from the top – [which] has taken root in the Labour Party”. His article said that the upcoming general election of December 12 had left “the overwhelming majority of British Jews […] gripped by anxiety”. He condemned as a “mendacious fiction” the claim that the party was “doing everything” to tackle racism against the British Jewish community, citing the Jewish Labour Movement’s figure of 130 anti-Semitism cases remaining outstanding, with “thousands more” reports still to be settled.
The Chief Rabbi acknowledged the extraordinary nature of his intervention, and said that expressing his fears about anti-Semitism during a general election was “among the most painful moments I have experienced since taking office”. He was compelled to express his concerns by the gravity of the situation, in which “the moral compass of our country” will be in the balance.
The publication of the article overshadowed Jeremy Corbyn’s launch of his party’s ‘race and faith manifesto’ in Tottenham today. He was heckled on his arrival, and prominent crowd-funded billboards were displayed nearby with messages such as ‘A Vote for Labour is a Vote for Racism’, and ‘Keep Antisemitism out of Downing Street’.
In his speech at the launch, Corbyn called anti-Jewish prejudice “vile and wrong” and “an evil within our society”. To applause from party members, he affirmed that “there is no place whatsoever for anti-Semitism in any shape or form, or in any place whatsoever in modern Britain, and under a Labour government it will not be tolerated in any form whatsoever. I want to make that clear.” Announcing that representatives of all faiths would be welcomed in Number 10, Corbyn referred to the Chief Rabbi’s criticism and invited him to discuss his concerns.
Mirvis’ intervention has since received support from other faith leaders. Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, expressed solidarity with his message but stopped short of echoing his specific criticism of the Labour Party or Corbyn: “That the Chief Rabbi should be compelled to make such an unprecedented statement at this time ought to alert us to the deep sense of insecurity and fear felt by many British Jews”. The Muslim Council of Britain called anti-Semitism “unacceptable”, taking the opportunity also to criticise Islamophobia among Conservatives, who were “allowing it to fester in society”.
In asking “every person to vote with their conscience”, the Chief Rabbi joins other prominent Jewish figures who have been outspoken about anti-Semitism in the Labour Party. The rabbi Jonathan Romain wrote in the Times earlier this month that “the golden rule that religion and politics do not mix […] needs to change for this election” and that people should “take a stand against a party that has a noble history of fighting prejudice but has lost its way”. In a front-page editorial on November 7, the Jewish Chronicle issued a call “to all our fellow British citizens” to vote against the Labour Party under its current leadership.