Jeremy Corbyn told British Jews that Labour is “an ally” moments before bringing the party conference to a rousing ovation by promising to immediately recognise the State of Palestine when in government.
In his speech to the party faithful in Liverpool on Wednesday, which was quickly deemed “a missed opportunity” by Jewish representatives, the Labour leader acknowledged a “tough” summer but promised to “eradicate anti-Semitism both from our party and wider society,” telling Jews: “We are your ally.”
Corbyn acknowledged that the issue had caused “immense hurt and anxiety in the Jewish community” and “great dismay” in the party, as he urged the Jewish community to help “draw a line under it”.
Jewish Leadership Council chief executive Simon Johnson was left unimpressed, however, saying: “This was a missed opportunity from the Labour Leader. The same words we have heard for months.”
Johnson said there had been “no condemnation of the abuse levelled against his fellow MP’s who have questioned anti-Semitism, no acknowledgement that he himself might have contributed in some way to this crisis continuing, and no statement that he will take the action that we asked for in our meeting in April”.
The JLC chief added: “This is just the same rhetoric. Mr Corbyn had a perfect opportunity to show leadership and lay this anti-Semitism crisis to rest. He missed the chance to do so.”
After a round of TV interviews, in which he was repeatedly pressed on his handling of the issue, Corbyn said: “This party, this movement, will always be implacable campaigners against anti-Semitism and racism in all its forms.”
He added: “The next Labour government will guarantee whatever support necessary to ensure the security of Jewish community centres and places of worship… We will work with Jewish communities to eradicate anti-Semitism, both within our party and wider society. And with your help I will fight for that with every breath that I possess.”
Board of Deputies’ president Marie van der Zyl said Corbyn’s words “mean nothing until Labour takes the necessary steps to deal with anti-Semitism in its ranks,” adding: “Words have long ceased to be enough. Actions are what matter.”
She said Corbyn had to “offer a heartfelt apology to British Jews and to Israeli victims of the terrorists with whom he has shown solidarity,” before saying: “Labour cannot ‘draw a line under’ this crisis and regain any shred of confidence from the Jewish community until this takes place.”
The Labour leader received a standing ovation for his remarks on the crisis, which has led lifelong Jewish Labour supporters to resign their membership in recent weeks, but it was on the subject of Palestine that he raised the roof.
Addressing the “ongoing denial of justice and rights to the Palestinian people,” Corbyn said: “Our party is united in condemning the shooting of hundreds of unarmed demonstrators in Gaza by Israeli forces and the passing of Israel’s discriminatory Nation State Bill.”
He added: “The continuing occupation, the expansion of illegal settlements and the imprisonment of Palestinian children are an outrage.
“We support a two-state solution to the conflict with a secure Israel and a viable and secure Palestinian state… In order to make that two-state settlement a reality we will recognise a Palestinian state as soon as we take office.”
The announcement, which was included in last year’s manifesto, triggered a long and sustained applause from the conference floor, which had earlier been transformed into a sea of Palestinian flags for a motion on Gaza.
Sussex Friends of Israel tweeted: “It is ironic that many in Labour accuse Jews of dual loyalty yet the mass waving of the Palestinian flag at conference with such passion rarely seen by Labour supporters when waving the Union Jack is not.”