Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis called for unity against antisemitism at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s (AIPAC) policy conference in Washington DC on Tuesday.
“You are in positions of leadership and influence. Please use it with all you’ve got at this time, for the sake of Jews and Judaism and Medinat Yisrael,” the chief rabbi told some 18,000 supporters of the pro-Israel group gathered at the Walter E. Washington Convention Centre.
“Please use your influence fearlessly and with courage. That is what Jews of the United Kingdom have done, together with our many friends and the results are there to be seen,” he said in an apparent reference to the December general election.
While Israeli and Jewish leaders have been “warmly and graciously welcomed at 10 Downing Street,” the last year, British Jews were “filled with deep anxiety,” he said.
WATCH: “Today I issue a call to the Jews of America, please take a leaf out of our book and please speak with one voice.”
— Chief Rabbi Mirvis (@chiefrabbi) March 3, 2020
Mirvis spoke about his op-ed published in The Times ahead of the December poll, in which he accused Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn of “being complicit in prejudice” while at the helm of the party.
The Labour Party, which saw its worst electoral defeat since 1935, is being investigated by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, making it the second political party to be probed by the human rights watchdog.
The article, he said, was not written unilaterally but “in concert with key Jewish figures and key Jewish organisations because on the matter of antisemitism we have always acted as one.”
“That is why our voice has been heard and our views have been respected. Today I issue a call to the Jews of America, please take a leaf out of our book and please speak with one voice,” he said.
The rabbi spoke about the Conservative peer Lord Eric Pickles, who is the head of the UK delegation of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, praising the group’s definition of antisemitism adopted by the Government in 2016.
Flying in the from the UK, the former MP Ian Austin delivered an emotional speech. “I want to tell you about a 10 year-old Jewish boy from Czechoslovakia,” he said.
“A few days after [Adolf] Hitler invaded in March 1939, he was put on a train to England by his mum and teenage sisters. It was the last time he’d see them. They were rounded up, sent first to a ghetto, then to Theresienstadt before being sent to Treblinka where they were murdered in October 1942,” he said.
“Ladies and gentlemen, that little boy was my dad, and it is because of him that I am here today,” he added, sparking a round of applause.
Also British speakers included the Jewish Leadership Council chairman Jonathan Goldstein, who joined a panel on the rise of antisemitism in Europe during a breakout session, and the retired British Army officer Col. Richard Kemp.
Other speakers included the Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Blue and White Party chair Benny Gantz and Democratic Party candidates Michael Bloomberg and Joe Biden.
The Jewish Democratic Party candidate Bernie Sanders boycotted the event over concern it platforms “leaders who express bigotry and oppose basic Palestinian rights.”
AIPAC hit out against Sanders’ “truly shameful” comment in a statement, noting Sanders has never attended its annual conference.