The Campaign Against Antisemitism has warned that British Jews will continue to “worry” about their future in Britain, following Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s appearance yesterday in front of a Parliamentary inquiry into antisemitism.
Mr. Corbyn’s leadership has been dogged by allegations both of antisemitism within the party and on a broader level of a rise of antisemitic feeling within the party, but an appearance yesterday in front of the Home Affairs Select Committee’s inquiry into antisemitism was a chance for the beleaguered leader to set things straight.
Unfortunately for the Labour leader the verdict of the Campaign Against Antisemitism, a volunteer group set up by British Jews concerned about the recent rise in antisemitism in the country, is that his evidence was “totally inadequate”.
Just five days ago, following a disastrous media event presenting the results of an inquiry into antisemitism within the Labour Party, which itself prompted two new allegations of antisemitism, the Jewish Labour MP Ruth Smeeth commented that the “Labour Party under his stewardship cannot be a safe space for British Jews”.
She had been accused at that event by a Corbyn supporter of working “hand in glove” with the right-wing press.
But yesterday Mr. Corbyn denied her claim, saying: “I don’t accept what Ruth has said, and I don’t agree with it.”
He also refused to call out her attack as one of racism, merely saying: “I’m going to talk to Ruth about it…I’ve left her a message and I’m speaking to her later.”
And he refused to denounce the attack on Mrs. Smeeth as antisemitism or racism, saying: “I need to know exactly what was said before I can make a comment on that.”
It was far from the only problematic exchange during the 90-minute session, during which he defended meeting promoter of blood libel Raed Salah and inviting him for tea in the House of Commons. Regarding the Labour activist Jackie Walker, who said that Jews had financed the slave trade, Mr. Corbyn said he is “content that she’s now been reinstated in the party”.
Of former Mayor of London Ken Livingstone, who was suspended from the Labour Party earlier this year for insisting that Hitler was a Zionist, Mr. Corbyn said: “Ken Livingstone made remarks that are wholly unacceptable and totally wrong.” He refused to denounce the comments as racist or antisemitic, merely repeating: “His remarks are subject to investigation and there is a due process going on within the party.”
Commenting on the evidence session, Jonathan Sacerdoti, Director of Communications at the Campaign Against Antisemitism, said “Jeremy Corbyn’s evidence given to the Parliamentary inquiry was totally inadequate. It will further worry British Jews. Despite his repeated grandstanding on his commitment to fighting racism, when challenged on specifics he was forced to admit antisemitism where at first he tried to excuse or deny it.
“He condemned Ken Livingstone, but refused to label his words as antisemitic. He regretted using the word ‘friends’ to describe genocidal antisemitic terrorist organisations, but seemed reluctant to recognise their antisemitism until confronted with the bloodcurdling Hamas charter itself. He claimed ignorance of a whole list of high profile antisemitic incidents involving Labour figures including his own Director of Communications, Seamus Milne.
“Mr. Corbyn insists that he is against antisemitism and all forms of racism, but his actions repeatedly leave Jewish people doubting his commitment and questioning his own actions. Mr. Corbyn’s dire performance raised more questions than it answered.
“Ms. Chakrabarti demonstrated her total lack of independence during the proceedings, attempting to prompt Mr. Corbyn by passing him notes throughout. Both her report into antisemitism and her attempts to brief and assist Corbyn during questioning showed her inability to look out for the interests of Jewish people above her declared devotion to the Labour Party.”