Former Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks would refuse to hold talks with Jeremy Corbyn until Labour does more to tackle anti-Semitism, he has said.
The religious leader and author, who was chief rabbi for 22 years until 2013, said the party’s actions have not been “consistent” with its zero tolerance rhetoric.
Addressing the controversy surrounding relations with the Opposition for the first time in an interview marking his 70th birthday today, the peer said: “Any political party has to adopt a zero tolerance approach to anti-Semitism. If they fail to do so they are a danger not only to themselves but to the country and all its inhabitants.
“I hope the Labour Party under its current leadership adopts that policy and pursues it much more vigorously than it has done until now. I have to salute the political leaders with whom I worked because they were willing to put themselves absolutely on the line in the fight against anti-Semitism and all the other fights related to shechita, brit milah.”
Asked what key message he would want to give Corbyn if he had the chance to sit down with him, he said it would not be his role to do so as a former chief rabbi but added: “I would want to see clearer signs of resolute action by a party and its leader before I would even sit down with them full stop.”
In terms of anti-Semitism in general, he said he didn’t believe Jews in Britain should feel isolated and “there have been remarkable politicians in Britain who have stood up against it” including John Mann of the All-Party Parliamentary Group against Antisemitism.
Board of Deputies President Jonathan Arkush and Israeli Ambassador Mark Regev both held face-to-face talks with the Labour leader in 2016, while Corbyn addressed the Jewish Labour Movement’s Chanukah party in December. Community leaders still have regular contact with his office.
A number of party members, councillors and an MP have been suspended by Labour over the last two years but the party has faced widespread condemnation for its response to allegations of anti-Semitism in the party, with the failure so far to expel Ken Livingstone a particular focus of anger.
“..I would want to see clearer signs of resolute action by a party and its leader before I would even sit down with them full stop..”
The former London mayor had his suspension extended last week, two years after he originally claimed Hitler supported Zionism, a claim he has steadfastly stuck to. He is to be subject to a further probe over comments made subsequent to his suspension last year. It came just a week after activist Tony Greenstein was finally expelled by the party, drawing applause but warnings it must be followed by swift action on other cases.
A senior communal source said: “If Rabbi Lord Sacks, one of the clearest thinkers on Jewish issues, feels this way, then that is a serious reflection of the community’s attitudes to the current Labour party.”
A spokesman for Corbyn said: “Jeremy Corbyn and the whole Labour Party campaigns against and condemns anti-Semitism in all its forms. Our party has deep roots in the Jewish community and is actively engaged with Jewish organisations across the country. We are campaigning to increase support and confidence in labour among Jewish people in the UK.”