The Chief Rabbi has told an influential committee of MPs that anti-Semitism in the Labour Party has got worse since Jeremy Corbyn became leader, and that the party’s inquiry led by Shami Chakrabarti missed several opportunities.
His comments, alongside those of other Jewish leaders, were made to the Home Affairs Select Committee on Thursday, as parliamentarians concluded their own review of anti-Semitism in the UK.
Mirvis said that although the overall context was that “life is good for Jews in the UK, we’ve got a problem, and it’s got bigger”. He said anti-Semitism was “on the increase” in Britain, although “not as worrying as it is on the continent,” and said the increase was in-part due to “trigger points, such as events in the Middle East”.
Mirvis identified Jewish students going to university for the first time were “being demonised” on campus for their views, but said the problem was best exemplified within the Labour Party, where anti-Semitism had become more brazen.
“Since the leadership of Mr [Jeremy] Corbyn, it has become more acceptable for elements which used to be a fringe group to now appear centre-stage and to express their ideology in a more open and confident manner.”
Asked about Labour’s record on racism and of welcoming Jews, he added that this raised “added concern about the recent shift,” saying: “We need to encourage Labour to get back on track.”
Committee chairman Keith Vaz said the Labour leader had fully denounced anti-Semitism within the party, but Mirvis said he shared the concerns of many Jews that “anti-Semitism is not being taken seriously enough” under Corbyn’s leadership.
Mirvis added that Ken Livingstone’s comments about Hitler being a Zionist were “anti-Semitic,” saying: “This is not the first time he’s started to talk about the Holocaust when asked about Jewish people and Jewish issues. It has in the past been pointed out to him that this is offensive, so to mention Hitler, of all names, in that context, only exacerbated the situation… I believe they were intended to offend.”
He said there were positive features to Shami Chakrabarti’s report, such as her guidance on the use of specific terminology, but pointed out his “reservations,” including his primary concern about a lack of definition.
“I can’t understand why she calls for a moratorium on historic instances of anti-Semitism, what is wrong is wrong,” he said. “There is also no reference to events at the Oxford University Labour Club, or the [subsequent] Royall Report. Resolutions were published but the report was not. One wonders what there is to hide, and why is it that the RR has been kicked into the long grass.”
He added: “Main reservation is the absence of a definition of anti-Semitism. You can’t deal with a phenomenon if there is no definition of it. I cannot understand why [Chakrabarti] did not incorporate the EUMC Working definition into her report.”
On the subject of online hate, Mirvis said social media companies should do more to filter anti-Semitic messages, saying: “They have a responsibility. Freedom of expression, of speech, is an integral part of our great society, but you need to express that freedom with responsibility, and where it is irresponsible, we as a society should be doing something about it.”
Also appearing before the Committee were Community Security Trust director Mark Gardner, Jewish Leadership Council chairman Sir Mick Davis, and John Mann MP, who heads the All-Party Parliamentary Committee on Anti-Semitism.