Jeremy Corbyn expressed support for shechita and gave “a very solid commitment” on Israel’s right to live in safety as part of a two-state solution – but community leaders insisted he must do more to address concerns over past meetings, by Justin Cohen
The comments came after talks with the Board of Deputies – the first face to face meeting between community leaders and the Labour leader since he took on the role last summer. His long-standing campaigning on Palestine and his associations with an array of extremists over a long career on the backbench had provoked widespread concern among many British Jews.
“The meeting has resulted in significant clarifications of the views of the Leader of the Opposition on key issues for the Jewish community,” the Board said, while claiming there were still areas on which Corbyn “could make firmer commitments”.
President Jonathan Arkush, who was joined for the talks by Chief Executive Gillian Merron, said: “We had a positive and constructive meeting and were pleased that Mr Corbyn gave a very solid commitment to the right of Israel to live within secure and recognised boundaries as part of a two state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict. Mr Corbyn affirmed his support for shechitah, brit milah and Jewish faith schools. He also resolved in strong terms to fight anti-Semitism from wherever it comes. He rejected any sort of violence or intimidation such as occurred at King’s College London last month.”
But he added: “Despite being pressed, he should do more to address profound and real concerns about past meetings with people or organisations with extremist or anti-Semitic views. We are also looking for the Labour leadership to show with more clarity that it will maintain its longstanding opposition of boycotts against Israel. However, this is the beginning of a conversation between the Jewish community and the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership and we will be meeting him again later this year.”
Labour has a long-standing policy against boycotts but Corbyn signalled during his campaign to become leadership that he was in favour of economic measures related to arms and the importation of settlement goods. Shortly after his election, Shadow Communities Secretary Jon Trickett said the party opposed “general” boycotts.
In his own statement, the Labour chief also used the words “positive and constructive” to describe the meeting. He described Anglo-Jewry as a “vibrant and much diverse UK society” and insisted he was determined to work with leaders “to improve interfaith relations and community safety”.
In the wake of concerns about anti-Semitism from the Left, he made clear he “utterly opposed” the scourge “including denial of the Holocaust from any part of the political spectrum”.
Turning to the Middle East, he said: “I have a long interest in campaigning for justice in the Middle East and reiterated my commitment to a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict. Israelis and Palestinians both have the right to a state, and to live in peace and security. I condemn violence – the future of the region can only be resolved with negotiation, not violence.
“The conflict is an emotive subject for communities in Britain too. But that can never be an excuse for anti-Semitism or Islamophobia. Disagreements over sensitive political issues must be conducted in a civil manner and without intimidation – I condemn all acts which intimidate or constrain the exercise of free speech.”