Jeremy Corbyn, Labour And Anti-Semitism: Your Need-To-Know

As findings from the EHRC's inquiry into anti-semitism in the Labour party are released and Jeremy Corbyn is suspended, we look back at key moments during his leadership when concerns about Jewish-hate were raised.

Jeremy Corbyn

by Siam Goorwich & Rebecca Reid |

A report into allegations of anti-Semitism in Labour has found the party was responsible for three breaches of the Equality Act and the party could have tackled antisemitism more effectively 'if the leadership had chosen to do so'. Former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has now been suspended following his reaction to the findings from the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) 130-page investigation released today. He said the scale of Labour anti-Semitism had been 'dramatically overstated' by his opponents.

The UK's human rights watchdog identified 'serious failings' under his leadership to deal with anti-Jewish racism. The watchdog also said Corbyn's office had 'politically interfered' in the complaints process. Labour's new leader Sir Keir Starmer has called it 'a day of shame.'

Luciana Berger, former Labour MP who left the party 18 months ago because she 'could no longer represent a political party that despite dedicating my adult life to, I had come to the sickening conclusion was institutionally racist,' posted her response to the report today.

In it, she says wrote, 'I welcome the EHRC’s recommendations, and the commitment today from Labour’s new leader Keir Starmer, to implement them urgently and in full. There needs to be a complete overhaul of the party’s governance structures, so that no-one will ever be discriminated against or harassed again because of factional control of the party’s mechanisms. I hope to see decisive leadership in the coming weeks and months.'

Corbyn has responded to news of his suspension saying 'I will strongly contest the political intervention to suspend me. I’ve made absolutely clear those who deny there has been an antisemitism problem in the Labour Party are wrong. I will continue to support a zero tolerance policy towards all forms of racism.' He tweeted a full response to the report this morning.

Here, we look back at some of the key moments during Corbyn's leadership where concerns of anti-Semitism in the Labour party were raised.

What happened during the Andrew Neil interview?

Last November, Jeremy Corbyn was interviewed by the BBC's Andrew Neil. While the interview covered a wide variety of topics, the issue which attracted the most attention was the topic of anti-semitism.

Neil asked: 'Jeremy Corbyn, the Chief Rabbi says a new poison of anti-Semitism, anti-Jewism, has taken root in the Labour Party and it’s sanctioned by you, he says. He questions you’re fit for office. What’s your response?' to which Corbyn answered, 'I’m looking forward to having a discussion with him because I want to hear why he would say such a thing. So far as I’m concerned anti-Semitism is not acceptable in any form anywhere in our society and obviously certainly not in my party, the Labour Party.'

He then went on to explain that he had 'strengthened' the process by which anti-Semitism is investigated by the Labour party.

Things became tense when Neil asked Corbyn, 'Let me ask you this. Is it anti-Semitic to say Rothschild’s Zionists run Israel and world governments?'

Corbyn replied, 'In the Chakrabarti Report we asked that people did not use comparisons about conspiracies, not use –' and was interrupted by Neil saying 'is it anti-Semitic?' A verbal tussle then ensued where neither party seemed to concede ground.

Corbyn: It should not be used and it is.

Neil: But you can’t say it’s anti-Semitic?

Corbyn: Look, I just said that it should not be used.

What was the reaction from the Jewish community at the time?

The Board of Deputies Of British Jews ( the main representative body of the British Jewish community) tweeted that the exchange was 'shameful',

The Jewish Labour Movement tweeted, 'Jeremy Corbyn could start by saying sorry. Act'.

Back in 2017, Siam Goorwich wrote:

Although there were concerns over Jeremy Corbyn's link to anti-Semitic groups ever since he took up the role of Labour party leader in 2015, things came to a head after the release of two stories; the first was the news that Jeremy Corbyn had been a member of a secret Facebook group called Palestine Live, which was openly rife with extreme anti-Semitic content including holocaust denial, paranoid conspiracy theories about Jews running the world and being responsible for atrocities such as 9/11 and Nazi-style caricatures. The second was the resurfacing of a story from 2015, about Jeremy Corbyn's support for an anti-Semitic mural in the borough of Tower Hamlets in London.

Corbyn said he had not seen the other antisemitic posts on the group. 'Had I seen it, of course, I would have challenged it straight away, but I actually don’t spend all my time reading social media,' he said. 'I have never trawled through the whole group. I have never read all the messages on it. I have removed myself from it,” he told the Press Association. “Obviously, any antisemitic comment is wrong. Any antisemitism in any form is wrong.'

It was also claimed that a formal complaint was made about Corbyn's comment on the post about the mural back in 2017 which, Sam Shemtob who made the complaint says was 'brushed off'.

The mural in question was called 'Freedom for Humanity' and was created by LA-based graffiti artist Mear One. It depicted elderly 'bankers' (who resemble Nazi caricatures of the supposed stereotype of the 'Jewish elite') sitting round a Monopoly-style board laden with piles of money which rests on the backs of naked figures.

The mural was removed from East London in 2012 following complaints that it was anti-Semitic. Mear One - whose real name is Kalen Ockerman - has denied being anti-Semitic, saying the mural was about 'class and privilege'. At the time Tower Hamlets then-Mayor said: 'the images of the bankers perpetuate anti-Semitic propaganda about conspiratorial Jewish domination of financial and political institutions'.

So how does Corbyn fit into this?

Well, when Mear One announced that the mural was being removed on his Facebook page, Jeremy Corbyn commented underneath saying: 'Why? You are in good company. Rockerfeller destroyed Diego Viera's mural because it includes a picture of Lenin.'

Corbyn was slow to apologise for making this comment but later said he is 'sincerely sorry'. However, he released an initial statement which said that he did not look at the mural properly before commenting:

'In 2012 I made a general comment about the removal of public art on grounds of freedom of speech,' he said. 'My comment referred to the destruction of the mural Man at the Crossroads by Diego Rivera on the Rockefeller Center. 'That is in no way comparable with the mural in the original post. I sincerely regret that I did not look more closely at the image I was commenting on, the contents of which are deeply disturbing and anti-Semitic.

On the evening of Sunday 25 March 2018, the Board of Deputies of British Jews (the official voice for the Anglo-Jewish community) released an open letter titled 'Enough is Enough'. The letter began: 'Today, leaders of British Jewry tell Jeremy Corbyn that enough is enough… '

Concern about anti-Semitism within the Labour Party was persistent even before Corbyn was its leader. When Corbyn won the contest to be Labour leader in 2017 there were fears about some of the groups and thinkers he had previously associated with, specifically regarding their attitudes to the Jewish people. One such group is an anti-Israel campaign group Deir Yassin Remembered (DYR). One of the groups co-organisers, Gill Kaffash, is considered by some to be a Holocaust sceptic as this Telegraph piece investigates. Asked by the Telegraph about her views of the Holocaust, Mrs Kaffash, who denies being anti-Semitic, said: 'I don’t think there is evidence gas chambers were used to exterminate Jews. I don’t think there is evidence of a policy of extermination.'

In 2016 an official report which looked into anti-Semitism within Labour was published in an attempt to root out and put a stop to it.

The mural reignited anger and frustration about Corbyn's perceived refusal to tackle anti-Semitism head on, within his own party and more broadly.

But isn't Corbyn just anti-Israel?

As for his stance on Israel, Corbyn had previously clarified that he does not support a blanket boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) policy. However, he has said he does 'support targeted action aimed at illegal settlements and occupied territories'.

However, some feel that opposition to Israel is often wrongly conflated with anti-Semitic sentiment.

In their letter, the Board of Deputies tackle this, saying: 'Again and again, Jeremy Corbyn has sided with anti-Semites rather than Jews. At best, this derives from the far left's obsessive hatred of Zionism, Zionists and Israel. At worst, it suggests a conspiratorial worldview in which mainstream Jewish communities are believed to be a hostile entity, a class enemy'.

Jeremy Corbyn apologised - isn't that enough?

The feeling amongst many within the Jewish community, and outside of it, is that this is the latest in a long line of incidents in which Corbyn failed to quickly and robustly condemn anti-Semitism. People were also very unhappy that he issued apologies but continued to support people who are widely perceived to be anti-Semitic.

The Board of Deputies letter said: 'Hizbollah commits terrorist atrocities against Jews, but Corbyn calls them his friends and attends pro-Hizbollah rallies in London… Raed Salah says Jews kill Christian children to drink their blood. Corbyn opposes his extradition and invites him for tea at the House of Commons'. They went on: 'These are not the only cases. He is repeatedly found alongside people with blatantly anti-Semitic views but claims never to hear or read them'. However a statement issued by the sheikh's office dismissed the allegations 'an absolute lie and a malicious fabrication.'

Indeed, some of Corbyn's supporters believe that the outrage over Mear One's mural was nothing more than a smear campaign against Corbyn, a concerted attempt to undermine his leadership. They staged a counter protest in Westminster.

I'm not Jewish - why should I be bothered?

All discrimination is wrong - whether that's hate speech, racially aggravated violence, gender-based violence or the perpetuation of harmful and hurtful stereotypes. It's that simple. Imagine, for a moment, that the mural contained obvious and overtly racist tropes and stereotypes about another group of people, do you think Corbyn's condemnation would have been more forthright in that instance?

The 2011 Census revealed there are only 263,346 Jews living in the UK. Although this is widely thought to be an undercount, the true number is still thought to be less that 300,000 which means Jews make up just over 1% of the UK population. So basically - there aren't many of us, and we appreciate all the support we can get in fighting antisemitism!

Follow Siam on Twitter @SiamGoorwich

This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

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