Jeremy Corbyn: Labour is not a threat to Jewish life in Britain
Jeremy Corbyn has broken his silence over the antisemitism row engulfing Labour, acknowledging the party has “a real problem” over the issue but strongly rejecting the idea that it poses any threat to the Jewish community in the UK.
Writing in the Guardian following increasing calls for him to take a lead and address the concerns of many Jewish groups, the Labour leader accepted that the party’s incomplete adoption of an internationally recognised definition of antisemitism had caused genuine worries.
“People who dish out antisemitic poison need to understand: you do not do it in my name,” he wrote. “You are not my supporters and have no place in our movement.”
He acknowledged some of the fiercest criticisms of his leadership on the issue, saying the party must show more empathy, should have reacted more quickly to cases of abuse, and should have done more to consult the Jewish community.
But he described as “overheated rhetoric” the argument made by three Jewish newspapers in unprecedented joint front-page editorials that a government run by him would pose “an existential threat”.
Corbyn’s intervention came hours after the backbencher Margaret Hodge angrily rejected a proposal that party disciplinary charges against her be dropped if she apologise over a confrontation in which she called Corbyn an antisemite.
Corbyn’s article will be seen as a significant attempt to dampen the row after a week of difficult headlines and virtual silence from the party’s frontbench.
It follows reports that he had been planning to address the antisemitism row in a speech on Friday or next week amid pressure from within the party for him to intervene. That plan has seemingly been delayed after his team was reportedly unable to secure agreement from the Jewish Museum in London to host an event.
A spokesman for the Jewish Labour Movement expressed disappointment at Corbyn’s words: “Today, other than another article bemoaning a situation of the party’s own making, nothing has changed. There is no trust left. We find ourselves asking once again for action, not words.”
In his article, Corbyn addressed the central controversy over the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism, admitting that the Jewish community “should have been consulted more extensively at an earlier stage”. He said he was confident the disagreement could “be resolved through dialogue with community organisations”, but gave no sign the party was about to switch policy.
Addressing one of the key issues raised by Jewish groups, Corbyn reiterated his belief that there were valid reasons to not adopt one of the examples included in the IHRA definition, arguing that it could stifle legitimate criticism of Israel that was not antisemitic. Labour had been too slow in processing disciplinary cases over antisemitism and had not “done enough to foster deeper understanding of antisemitism among members”, Corbyn wrote, adding that he was aghast at the spread of anti-Jewish conspiracy theories.
Corbyn said he would “not for one moment accept that a Labour government would represent any kind of threat” to Jewish life in Britain.
He wrote: “That is the kind of overheated rhetoric that can surface during emotional political debates.”
Corbyn continued: “But I do acknowledge there is a real problem that Labour is working to overcome. And I accept that if any part of our national community feels threatened, anxious or vulnerable, not only must that be taken at face value but we must all ensure that those fears are put to rest.”
He accepted that the party’s version of the IHRA definition, incorporated into its code of conduct by the national executive, was not accepted by “most of the Jewish community, including many Labour supporters”.
Labour has adopted the full definition, but reworded a handful of the 11 associated examples, principally one connected to criticism of Israel.
The change was needed, Corbyn wrote, as this one example “has sometimes been used by those wanting to restrict criticism of Israel that is not antisemitic”.
He added: “But I feel confident that this outstanding issue can be resolved through dialogue with community organisations, including the Jewish Labour Movement, during this month’s consultation.”
Corbyn must also find a solution to the situation with Hodge, along with the Dudley North MP, Ian Austin, who face disciplinary charges after dissenting over antisemitism policy in ways the party claims were abusive.
Letters released in a series of tweets by Hodge show her lawyers, Mishcon de Reya, repeatedly asking for further details of the alleged offence, and information about any witnesses to the confrontation in the House of Commons on 17 July.
When the Labour general secretary, Jennie Formby, gives no details, Hodge’s lawyers call the investigation “simply untenable” and argue it should be dropped immediately.
One letter from Formby, dated 25 July, notifies the lawyers that the investigation could end “on condition that your client gives in short order an appropriate apology for her conduct”.
In an emailed reply the same day, Mishcon de Reya rejects this, saying: “For our client to be forced into an apology, this would mean that you would have predetermined that she has done something wrong.”
A further letter from Formby says this would not be the case: “As a matter of law an apology is not generally an admission of guilt or liability. So inviting an apology from your client is neither an accusation of guilt nor evidence of predetermination.” This argument is then dismissed by Hodge’s lawyers as “simply bizarre”.
It is understood that Austin is also waiting to learn details of what he is accused of, with his lawyers having written to Formby but receiving no reply as yet.