Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry drew jeers from a Limmud audience when she said that Jeremy Corbyn was so “upset” by allegations of antisemitism against him, he failed to act.
Interviewed by Momentum founder Jon Lansman at one of the last Limmud sessions on Thursday, the Islington South MP also drew laughter when she repeated the claim that “there isn’t a racist or antisemitic bone in Jeremy’s body”.
She recalled that when former Prime Minister Gordon Brown was accused in the MP expenses scandal, he failed to act because he was shocked by the allegations against him.
“When people accused Jeremy of being an antisemite, he was so upset, and as a result he has found it difficult to deal with the problem. He hasn’t dealt with it properly, but to call him antisemitic is wrong,” she said.
She added that the way the party conducted itself over the summer was “shameful”, but leaders are not “Gods, they aren’t perfect”.
Part of the problem, said Thornberry, was that people who have lately joined the party from the far left who had been involved with Palestine advocacy suffered from “lazy, undisciplined thinking” when they equated all Jews with Israel.
“It’s not Jews. It’s not even Israelis. It’s the Israeli government,” she stressed.
Asked by an audience member how, given her comments about such “lazy, undisciplined thinking”, could she serve in a shadow cabinet “under a Labour leader who would surely fail under your own definition?”
Thornberry dodged the question, saying: “It is my core belief that only the Labour Party can improve this country and make it more socially just. And it is for that and many other reasons that I am committed to my party and believe it’s my duty to serve my party and make my leader the best leader he can be, and for us to be part of a leadership team.”
However, Thornberry said there was a “far-left caricature” of equating capitalism with Jews that was “obscene” and revealed antisemitic attitudes. The party expansion just before Corbyn’s election to the leadership had allowed some people who believe this to join, she said.
“It breaks my heart to see how we’ve lost trust with Jewish people… why should people trust us, given what’s happened?”, she said.
She was clear, however, that a future Labour government would “categorically” not cut funding to security for Jewish schools. Any reports to the contrary were the result of a “major misunderstanding”, which was the result of a misinterpretation of an interview with Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell.
“I’ve spoken to John McDonnell. This is a major misunderstanding. There is no way there will be any cuts to funding for the Community Security Trust [CST],” Thornberry stressed.
Addressing her own connection with Israel, Thornberry noted that she had been visiting the state since the late 1970s, when her father was stationed there with the UN.
“Every time I go, the division between the two sides is greater and the chance of lasting peace gets smaller”, adding that Labour’s position “begins with a strong commitment to the two-state solution… for Israel to be safe and secure, for Palestine to be viable.
“It is terrible to see what is happening, because it is such a wonderful place.”