“For whatever reasons, you have not, until now, seemed to grasp how strongly British Jews feel about the situation.”
By Tamara Zieve
Leaders of British Jewry set preconditions for a meeting with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, following his offer to talk in light of outrage in the Jewish community and beyond over his “systematic failure to understand and deal with antisemitism.”
Two days after hundreds of people demonstrated over this issue in London’s Parliament Square, chanting “Enough is enough,” Board of Deputies president Jonathan Arkush and Jewish Leadership Council chairman Jonathan Goldstein sent a letter of response to Corbyn, who had promised them that he is and will continue to be an ally in the fight against antisemitism.
Arkush and Goldstein told Corbyn that the unprecedented rally had arisen from more than two years of accumulated anger and despair in the Jewish community over numerous cases of antisemitism in the Labour Party and failures to deal with them in a decisive, swift and public manner.
“For whatever reasons, you have not, until now, seemed to grasp how strongly British Jews feel about the situation,” they continued. “Your letter was a welcome change in this regard, but only if it marks a new era of consistent and strong action and leadership to tackle the problem.”
While expressing appreciation for Corbyn’s apology over the pain caused by antisemitism in his party as well as other statements made in his letter, the Jewish leaders said that “any meeting between us must produce concrete, practical outcomes to be implemented by the party; there is no point in meeting if the situation remains the same or continues to worsen.”
The condition include: visible leadership by Corbyn on the issue; swift disciplinary action for outstanding and future cases of alleged antisemitism, overseen by an independent, mutually agreed ombudsman; and a ban on MPs, councilors and other party members sharing platforms with people who have been suspended or expelled for antisemiti.
Other demands made by the Jewish leaders involve education about antisemitism, based on the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition and public confirmation that the Labour Party will seek to understand and engage with the Jewish community via its main representative groups rather than with fringe groups.
They also stressed that Corbyn must work to put an end to abuse of people inside and outside of the Jewish community who are targeted for raising the issue of antisemitism in the Labour Party.
“This even affects those Labour MPs who showed their solidarity with the Jewish community on Monday,” they pointed out. “This is a disgrace: nobody should be vilified for opposing antisemitism. Those Labour Party members and Labour-supporting blogs pushing the abuse are largely doing so in your name. They need to hear you say, publicly and in your own voice, that we had every right to protest about antisemitism, and that Labour MPs had every right to support us; that our concerns about antisemitism are sincere and not a “smear” as has been widely alleged (including on your own Facebook page); and that anyone directing abuse, intimidation or threats at those of us who oppose antisemitism is damaging your efforts to eliminate it and to start rebuilding trust.”
We firmly believe that this must happen urgently, and certainly before we meet,” the letter concluded.