Unite general secretary Len McCluskey has said the UK’s Chief Rabbi was “wrong” to say Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was not fit to be prime minister.
In a column in The Times on Tuesday, Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis staged an unprecedented intervention, saying antisemitism in the Labour Party was a “poison – sanctioned from the top”.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s World At One programme, Mr McCluskey said: “I think that was wrong and quite extraordinary that a religious leader should come out and say that.”
He added: “Labour has fought, Jeremy Corbyn has fought, I’ve fought all my life against antisemitism. Labour has now very robust procedures to deal with anybody. We don’t want a single antisemite in the Labour Party.”
He continued: “I’m sure that’s what he believes if he said it, I just absolutely, fundamentally disagree with him.”
The party has tried to steer its campaign away from allegations of antisemitism and towards the NHS and climate change.
Corbyn faced pressure to apologise to the Jewish community after failing to when pressed during a 30-minute grilling on the BBC by veteran journalist Andrew Neil on Tuesday evening.
In the Jewish News this week, Labour’s General Secretary Jennie Formby wrote a column saying she respected Chief Rabbi Mirvis, but detailed the steps her party has taken to combat the issue of antisemitism – and why she thought he was wrong.
In September 2017, McCluskey was criticised by members of the community for claiming that accusations of antisemitism were “mood music” to undermine Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership.
Len McCluskey tells us he doesn’t recognise Labour has a problem with anti-Semitism, saying it was “mood music” created to undermine Corbyn pic.twitter.com/frZv5ZnrZ3
— BBC Newsnight (@BBCNewsnight) September 26, 2017
During an interview with Jewish News in December 2017, he was asked if he stood by the phrase, he said: “I recognise that the terminology ‘mood music’ can be taken the wrong way.
“I was accused of trying to trivialise the issue of antisemitism. I would never do that. I would genuinely never do that.
“The point I was making is that there were people – maybe within the Jewish community, maybe, but certainly not exclusively – who were looking to undermine Corbyn.
“It wasn’t just the issue of antisemitism. Remember there was a huge furore kicked up, supported by the British media, about misogyny… The strategy was to try to say the Labour Party is toxic, the nasty party, and it’s only happened under Corbyn because he’s a weak leader and the party is basically breaking up.”
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 during the interview with Neil.
Speaking to LBC, shadow international development secretary Barry Gardiner said Mr Corbyn has previously apologised to the Jewish community and has not been “allowed to move on”.
He said: “When somebody apologises, as he did in a video message, actually saying that he apologised for it, for the deep hurt that had been caused to members of the Jewish community. He apologised that we had not as a party acted swiftly enough.
“And he pledged to do more to make sure that we got our processes more swiftly and more decisively done.”
He added: “But having made that apology, it doesn’t seem to have allowed it to move on. So whether he had apologised with Andrew Neil or not, I’m not sure whether it would have made a difference to the amount.”