Jeremy Corbyn has refused to apologise to the Jewish community after the Chief Rabbi warned his failure to tackle the issue made him unfit to be prime minister.
The Labour leader said he does not tolerate antisemitism “in any form whatsoever” and called it “vile and wrong” – but he declined four times to apologise to the Jewish community in a BBC interview with veteran journalist Andrew Neil.
During the BBC’s The Andrew Neil Interviews on Tuesday evening, Mr Corbyn accused Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis of being wrong about part of his criticism of Labour’s handling of antisemitism.
He said: “I’m looking forward to having a discussion with him because I want to hear why he would say such a thing.”
The Labour leader was challenged over Rabbi Mirvis’s allegation that Labour’s claims it is doing everything to tackle anti-Jewish racism was a “mendacious fiction”.
WATCH the full interview here:
“No, he’s not right. Because he would have to produce the evidence to say that’s mendacious,” Mr Corbyn replied.
He insisted he has “developed a much stronger process” and had sanctioned and removed members who have been antisemitic.
Mr Corbyn also denied that the blight increased after he took over the party, saying: “It didn’t rise after I became leader.
“Antisemitism is there in society, there are a very, very small number of people in the Labour Party that have been sanctioned as a result of complaints about their antisemitic behaviour.”
But he repeatedly refused to apologise when asked by Mr Neil.
“We will not allow antisemitism in any form in our society because it is poisonous and divisive, just as much as Islamophobia or far-right racism is,” Mr Corbyn said.
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Mr Corbyn insisted he had “strengthened the processes” since a written warning was given to a member who questioned the murder toll of the Holocaust.
The Board of Deputies of British Jews reacted to the interview by simply tweeting: “Shameful”.
— Board of Deputies of British Jews (@BoardofDeputies) November 26, 2019
Chairman of the pro-Corbyn Momentum group Jon Lansman, who is also a member of Labour’s National Executive Committee, said some Jewish organisations have “refused to engage” with the party.
Speaking to Channel 4 News, Mr Lansman said: “A number of organisations in the Jewish community have unfortunately refused to engage with the leader himself.”
He added: “Look, I acknowledge the deep concern of the Jewish community about this but I think we are doing our best to deal with it, I really do.”
Earlier, in an exchange with reporters in Bolton, Chancellor Sajid Javid refused to criticise the Prime Minister’s use of language about Muslim women.
He said Mr Johnson had “explained why he’s used that language”, adding the article “was to defend the rights of women, whether Muslim women and others, to wear what they like, so he’s explained that and I think he’s given a perfectly valid explanation”.
Later, Mr Johnson dismissed criticism by the Muslim Council of Britain of the Conservative Party’s handling of Islamophobia within its ranks.
Writing in The Times, Rabbi Mirvis said Labour’s handling of the issue, which has dogged the party under Mr Corbyn’s leadership, was “incompatible” with British values.
He said the overwhelming majority of Britain’s Jews were “gripped with anxiety” ahead of the General Election on December 12, warning “the very soul of our nation is at stake”.
His comments were seized on by Mr Johnson, who said Mr Corbyn’s inability to stamp out the “virus” of antisemitism in Labour represented a “failure of leadership”.
Mr Corbyn was greeted with shouts of “racist” by demonstrators as he arrived to launch Labour’s race and faith manifesto in north London, where he said the party does not tolerate antisemitism “in any form whatsoever” but he made no direct mention of the comments by Rabbi Mirvis.
Instead, it was left to Labour peer Lord Dubs – who came to Britain in the 1930s as a child refugee fleeing the Nazis – to say he believed the attack had been “unjustified and unfair”.
In his article, Rabbi Mirvis dismissed Labour’s claims to be doing everything it could to deal with antisemitism as a “mendacious fiction”.
“A new poison – sanctioned from the top – has taken root in the Labour Party,” he said.
“How complicit in prejudice would a leader of Her Majesty’s opposition have to be to be considered unfit for office?”
He received high-profile backing from the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev Justin Welby, who said his “unprecedented intervention” reflected the “deep sense of insecurity and fear felt by many British Jews”.
“Voicing words that commit to a stand against antisemitism requires a corresponding effort in visible action,” he said.