December 13, 2019
Why should Jews around the world care about the defeat of Jeremy Corbyn in this week’s UK election and his decision to step down from the Labour Party's helm? A recent poll found that 47% of British Jews had their proverbial bags packed in case Corbyn made it to No. 10 Downing Street. Even UK’s Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, leader of the UK’s 62 Orthodox synagogues, broke convention ahead of the election by declaring Corbyn was not suited to lead.
Here are three primary reasons out of many why the prospect of "British Prime Minister Corbyn" gave British Jews great cause for concern about the future of their country.
1. Apparently, no one ever told Corbyn that it doesn’t hurt to say he’s sorry, even if he’s not. During a BBC interview last month, Corbyn was given the opportunity to apologize – not once, not twice, but three times – for his party’s mishandling of antisemitism allegations. But he declined every chance. Why was Corbyn repeatedly offered humble pie? UK’s chief rabbi had just issued a commentary excoriating Corbyn’s political party for its systemic antisemitism, calling it a “poison sanctioned from the top” -- where Corbyn has been seated for four years.
In the absence of Corbyn’s apology, two other Labour officials stepped up to fill the void of shame, conceding that the party had sluggishly addressed the problem.
Corbyn’s failure to even feign contrition so delighted Labour’s opponents that they posted the full BBC interview on the Conservative Party’s web site. Only then, did he offer an apology.
2. Corbyn does claim to have a few regrets. For example, he said he regretted once calling the Hamas and Hezbollah, two antisemitic terror groups intent on destroying Israel, his “friends.” In 2009, during a meeting of the Stop the War Coalition, he used the word to describe the Hamas and Hezbollah members he had invited to parliament and described Hamas as an organization “dedicated towards the good of the Palestinian people.” Labeling these organizations as terrorist groups, he said at that time, is “a huge historical mistake.”
But he admitted later that perhaps he had been in error. Confronted at a hearing before a parliament committee tasked with investigating Labour’s antisemitism, Corbyn said he no longer considered the terrorist groups his pals.
“It was inclusive language I used, which with hindsight I would rather not have used,” he told the committee.
Corbyn also expressed regret for his choice of words when he announced Labour’s independent investigation of antisemitism. “Our Jewish friends are no more responsible for the actions of Israel or the Netanyahu government than our Muslim friends are for those of various self-styled Islamic states or organizations.” He later insisted that he was not comparing Israel to Islamic State terrorists.
Last year, he belatedly apologized for defending an antisemitic mural that had been painted on the side of a building in 2012 before he became Labour leader. Titled Freedom for Humanity, the east London mural featured Jewish men playing Monopoly on the backs of other humans. At the time, Corbyn defended the mural on grounds of freedom of speech, expression, and artistic ability. Six years later, he said he should have taken a closer look before making that argument.
3. Corbyn was once filmed telling a group gathered at the Palestinian Return Centre that “Zionists”—often used as code for Jews—“despite having lived in this country for a very long time, probably all their lives, don’t understand English irony.”
But actions – or lack thereof – have spoken louder than words. A sensitive Labour Party email leaked in early March of 2019 revealed that just under a thousand reported cases of antisemitism had been filed against British Members of Parliament, yet, over half remained unresolved or unaddressed.
Labour members were documented engaging in grossly antisemitic rhetoric on social media, including “Heil Hitler,” “F*ck the Jews,” and “Jews are the problem.” But only 29 members were removed from the party.
Recently leaked testimony given to the Equality and Human Rights Commission included a report that Labour’s former second-in-command Tom Watson, allegedly forwarded 50 complaints to Corbyn, and no action was taken. Examples of complaints included tweets linking Hitler & the Rothschilds and questioning whether Jewish MPs had “human blood.”
In addition to ousters, the failure to adequately address allegations has led to a number of voluntary departures. Former Labour MPs including Watson, Louise Ellman, Anne Coffey, Ian Austin, Angela Smith, Chris Leslie, Mike Gapes, Luciana Berger, Gavin Shuker, Joan Ryan, John Mann, and Chuka Umunna all resigned this year over the scourge of antisemitism within the party.
Furthermore, the Jewish Labour Party declined to support Corbyn’s candidacy in this past election. And some high-profile celebrities including actor Hugh Grant, Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis and the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby expressed their dismay about his prospects as the next prime minister.
Turns out, while Corbyn might think British Jews lack a sense of irony, some might say they got the last laugh when they abandoned their longtime support of the Labour Party this week, giving Boris Johnson a landslide victory and giving the Labour Party its worst loss of parliamentary seats since 1935. But no one is really laughing.