Jewish communal leaders reacted with disbelief on Tuesday after secretly-recorded footage showed Jeremy Corbyn attending a Passover event with “radical” Jews who think the Labour antisemitism crisis is “the work of cynical manipulations”.
The Labour leader was filmed at a seder in his Islington constituency organised by Jewdas, a small group of Israel critics who “mercilessly satirise” mainstream Jewish groups such as the Board of Deputies and the Jewish Leadership Council.
The recordings, published on the Guido Fawkes website, earned prompt criticism from Board president Jonathan Arkush and JLC chair Jonathan Goldstein, whose organisations were reportedly booed at the event. Both men spoke at a Parliament Square rally against Labour anti-Semitism last Monday.
In a statement on Facebook, Jewdas said they were “unhappy with the pervasive anti-Semitism that still remains on the Left but continue to be very much involved because we are committed to a better world and a better Left, and believe that the only way to tackle anti-Semitism is to keep fighting for our rights in the Diaspora”.
Corbyn, whose spokesman earlier said he attended in a “personal capacity,” defended his attendance at “a celebration of Passover, which I celebrate with young Jewish people from my own community and my own constituency”.
He added: “It was very interesting talking to a lot of young people about their experiences of modern Britain and I learned a lot. Isn’t that a good thing?”
In a blog post for Labour List, seder participant Charlotte Nichols said: “Jeremy could not have been a more gracious guest… an active participant from start to finish, leading the prayer for Elijah’s cup, singing along with us as best he could, and even bringing along beetroot from his own allotment for our (vegan) Seder plate.”
She added: “The primary grievance in recent years has been that too often we feel like we need to be apologetic for being Jewish in left-wing spaces, and apologetic for being left-wing in Jewish spaces. At last night’s Seder, we could unapologetically be both.”
Corbyn ally Jon Lansman, the head of grassroots group Momentum, who is Jewish, told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme that the Labour leader “had nothing in his official diary, it was his night off… I don’t think this is as significant as is being made out”. However, he added that “it’s certainly not helpful for Jeremy or the cause of opposing anti-Semitism in the Labour Party”.
Speaking to Nick Ferrari on LBC Radio, Arkush said: “What Jeremy Corbyn did last night was the very thing which we wrote to him about last week.” Arkush said one of the things he and Goldstein wanted was for Corbyn to “stop giving credence to ultra-fringe groups that say anti-Semitic things, who are far from representative.”
In a later interview with Sky News, Arkush said: “I just heard him [Corbyn] describe anti-Semitism as vile and evil… Why then go to a group that is the source of virulent anti-Semitism and has dismissed the current news about anti-Semitism on the left as a right-wing smear?”
He added: “Either Jeremy Corbyn was deliberately provoking the Jewish community or making a catastrophic error of judgment.”
Speaking to the Today programme, Goldstein said Corbyn “in his first act towards the Jewish community has gone to sit with a group who describe the JLC’s and the Board’s actions as being a cynical ploy”.
Goldstein added that the Labour leader “instead should have spent his time standing up for those Labour MPs who have been vilified within their own constituencies by members of their party for standing with us at a demonstration last Monday”.
Holocaust Education Trust chief executive Karen Pollock said Corbyn’s attendance was “mocking and disrespectful”.
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WATCH!@BoDPres on @SkyNews:
“It doesn’t make sense to me. Either Jeremy Corbyn was deliberatly provoking the Jewish community or he was guilty of a catastrophic error of judgement. I don’t know which one of those are true!”@BoardofDeputies @JLC_uk pic.twitter.com/Z8gGohBnpV
— SussexFriendsIsrael (@SussexFriends) April 3, 2018