With three weeks to go until the British public cast their vote in what is expected to be a close race in the country’s most important general election, and with the Labour Party closing the gap on the Conservatives, Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis launched a scathing attack yesterday by accusing Jeremy Corbyn of allowing anti-Semitism to take root in his party.
Urging voters not to back Labour, Mirvis warned, in an article published in the Rupert Murdock owned The Times newspaper, that it was nothing less than the “soul” of the UK and its “moral compass” that was at stake in the 12 December election. “I ask every person to vote with their conscience,” said the rabbi who also goes by the lofty title “Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom and Commonwealth.”
In his article, the rabbi denounced Labour’s handling of anti-Semitism cases in its ranks while painting a dark picture of the UK under a Labour government. British Jews, said Mirvis, were gripped by justified anxiety about the prospect of Corbyn wining the general election. Accusing the Labour leader of sanctioning racism, Mirvis said: “The party leadership have never understood that their failure is not just one of procedure, which can be remedied with additional staff or new processes. It is a failure to see this as a human problem rather than a political one. It is a failure of culture. It is a failure of leadership. A new poison – sanctioned from the top – has taken root in the Labour party.”
The stark message, echoed warnings issued by the Jewish Chronicle in an article published two weeks ago urging Britons not to vote for Corbyn. In his article Mirvis recycled many of the claims made by the pro-Israel Jewish community newspaper with a worrying track record of making libellous allegations against pro-Palestinian activists. In one of its many sensational pieces the JC said that British Jews were facing an “existential threat”.
Mirvis said that his intervention was not one he wished to make. “Convention dictates that the Chief Rabbi stays well away from party politics — and rightly so,” he said. He explained that his concerns over anti-Semitism within the Labour Party had left him no choice but to speak out with “the heaviest of hearts.” This attempt to dispel accusation that a religious authority was interfering with the political process, is nonetheless likely to appear hollow.
Mirvis has shown that he has a habit of defying “convention” previously by wading into politics with an article in another right-wing paper – the Telegraph – to make the case that “Zionism is a noble and integral part of Judaism.” He claimed that anyone suggesting otherwise was “deeply insulting to the Jewish community.” It goes without saying that his political interventions have invariably been in support of the state of Israel. Writing in the New Statesman he lauded “the beauty of Israeli democracy,” in an article denouncing anyone that claims that it is in fact an apartheid state.
Following Israel’s bombardment of Gaza in 2014 which led to the death of more than 2,200 Palestinians most of whom were civilians, included 551 children, Mirvis offered a staunch defence of the Zionist state saying that the use of force in the besieged strip targeting Hamas was “understandable and justifiable”. In 2017 Mirvis joined his predecessor, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, to endorse a carnival in occupied Jerusalem critics describe as a “festival of hate”.
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It also goes without saying that Sacks shares Mirvis’ hostility towards Corbyn and has a habit of making sensational claims about the Labour leader. In 2018 he described Corbyn’s comments about pro-Israel activists of not having a “sense of irony” as the most offensive statement by a senior UK politician since Enoch Powell’s “rivers of blood” speech. Powell was a notorious British Conservative MP who opposed immigration into the UK.
In the Times article Mirvis cited the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) in claiming that there are at least 130 outstanding cases of anti-Semitism before the party, “some dating back years, and thousands more have been reported but remain unresolved”. The JLM, which withdrew its support for Labour, is a controversial organisation, having been exposed as a “proxy for the Israeli Embassy”. It claimed that “a culture of anti-Semitism has been allowed to emerge and fester in the Party at all levels” since Jeremy Corbyn was elected Labour leader in 2015. It also came under criticism for playing a less than honest role in a highly contentious documentary on the anti-Semitism row within the Labour Party.
The latest intervention by Mirvis, three weeks prior to the most important general election, has prompted accusations that the rabbi has politicised the fight against racism and anti-Semitism by gifting Corbyn’s opponents in the right-wing press more ammunition to thwart any last minute revival by Labour. The claim that Labour under Corbyn has a dangerous anti-Semitism problem was challenged using the Home Affairs Committee report on anti-Semitism in the UK. Their 65-page inquiry concluded that “despite significant press and public attention on the Labour Party, and a number of revelations regarding inappropriate social media content, there exists no reliable, empirical evidence to support the notion that there is a higher prevalence of antisemitic attitudes within the Labour Party than any other political party.”