The candidates for Labour leader have set out their stalls on issues of concern to the Jewish community, with Jeremy Corbyn admitting he’s been “shocked” by anti-Semitic language in the party and rival Owen Smith calling for permanent expulsions of members expressing such abuse.
The current leader also reiterated his backing for “targeted” boycotts aimed at “undermining the existence of illegal settlements in the West Bank”.
The comments come in response to letters from the Board of Deputies’ chief executive Gillian Merron enquiring about the candidate’s positions on a range of issues, but the focus of both responses are on anti-Semitism in the party. Nearly 20 members, councillors and one MP have been suspended or expelled in recent months.
Corbyn, who remains the front-runner, said: “I have been concerned and troubled by recent events in Labour with regards to anti-Semitism, and shocked by some of the language used.”
While community leaders have said the credibility of the report into anti-Semitism by Shami Chakrabarti is in tatters following her elevation to the House of Lords, he insisted he is committed to implementing its 20 recommendations – and consulting with the Board and other Jewish groups in rolling out anti-racism training.
He wrote: “I established the Chakrabarti Inquiry, the first full inquiry into racism in any political party in Britain, because I believe it is imperative to acknowledge and address these issues. As you state in your response to the Chakrabarti report: “there has too often been an attitude that, ‘We are on the left, therefore we cannot be racist’”. As I said in when I launched my campaign in July, the Labour Party must focus on ensuring all our members apply the anti-racist standards we preach.”
While Chakrabarti stopped short of recommending lifetime bans, Smith insisted any member or supporter found responsible for anti-Semitism “should be kicked out of the party for good – no ifs and no buts. That should apply to all forms of racism, sexist abuse and other forms of discrimination”.
Saying he was worried about the growth of anti-Semitism in the party and wider society, he added: “I support the implementation of the recommendations of the existing [Chakrabarti] report and also agree with your suggestion that the Party should commission a credible supplementary paper on this issue. If elected Leader I will ensure this happens.”
Both candidates backed the Board’s ten commitments – devised ahead of the last General Election – included defending religious rites and affirming the importance of faith schools. One pledge is to “promote peace projects that unite communities and resist boycotts that divide communities”.
Seeking to make his position clear, Corbyn said: ” I am not in favour of the academic or cultural boycott of Israel, and I am not in favour of a blanket boycott of Israeli goods. I do support targeted boycotts aimed at undermining the existence of illegal settlements in the West Bank.”
He added: “The society that we all want to create will be fairer, more tolerant and more secure. We will fight prejudice and discrimination in the workplace, in wider society and, yes, within the Labour Party. Every community, every faith must be allowed to thrive.”