Jeremy Corbyn’s fitness for high office was on Monday night called into question by the chief rabbi, in a scathing attack in which he accused the Labour leader of allowing “a new poison” to run through his party.
Ephraim Mirvis said the “very soul of our nation is at stake” in next month’s election, in one of the most hard-hitting interventions by a religious leader in British politics in recent times.
The chief rabbi said his decision to speak out was “amongst the most painful moments” of his career, but warned that “a new poison” had taken hold in Labour “sanctioned from the very top”.
In an article for The Times, he wrote that the Labour leader’s claim to have dealt with all allegations of anti-Semitism was “a mendacious fiction” and the way that the party has handled the claims was “incompatible with the British values of which we are so proud”.
He said that Labour could no longer claim to be the party of diversity, equality and antiracism. Its record on anti-Semitism in opposition, he said, left him asking: “What should we expect of them in government?”
Mr Corbyn has repeatedly insisted that he is getting to grips with anti-Semitism in his party and that he will not tolerate it, but a number of Labour MPs, including Luciana Berger and Louise Ellman, have quit the party in despair at the way the leadership had responded to the problem.
Rabbi Mirvis, who in July tweeted that he was “delighted to congratulate” Boris Johnson on becoming Conservative party leader, said that British Jews were understandably anxious as they prepared to vote: “How complicit in prejudice would a leader of Her Majesty’s opposition have to be to be considered unfit for office?” he asked.
“Would associations with those who have incited hatred against Jews be enough? Would describing as ‘friends’ those who endorse the murder of Jews be enough? It seems not.
“It is not my place to tell any person how they should vote. I regret being in this situation at all. I simply pose the question: What will the result of this election say about the moral compass of our country? When December 12 arrives, I ask every person to vote with their conscience. Be in no doubt, the very soul of our nation is at stake.”
Speaking at the launch of Labour’s race and faith manifesto on Tuesday, Mr Corbyn on Tuesday said the party’s disciplinary processes were “rapid” and “effective”
He said: “Anti-Semitism in any form is vile and wrong, it is an evil within our society. There is no place whatsoever for anti-Semitism in any shape or form or in any place whatsoever in modern and Britain and under a Labour government it will not be tolerated in any form whatsoever.
“In government our door will be open to all faith leaders.”
Also speaking at the event, Labour peer Alf Dubs expressed “bitter disappointment” at the rabbi’s intervention.
“I am bitterly disappointed by what he said. I don’t accept a lot of what he said, in so far as the Labour party should have acted a lot quicker”, he said. “But today of all days, for the chief rabbi to be attacking our leader, it is unjustified, unfair and I am bitterly, bitterly disappointed that he has done it.”
Rabbi Julia Neuberger, echoed Rabbi Mirvis’s views of Mr Corbyn and anti-Semitism. “The Labour party under his leadership, [is] coloured by not dealing with it,” she told the BBC Today programme on Tuesday. “If they come to power then this comfortable place to live may feel less comfortable. What I think is critical is that people will feel increasingly uncomfortable and will look for ways of either moving or having a place somewhere else, or whatever they can possibly do to mitigate what feels oppressive, uncomfortable, dangerous.”
Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, tweeted on Tuesday that Rabbi Mirvis’s “unprecedented statement at this time ought to alert us to the deep sense of insecurity and fear felt by many British Jews”.
“Everyone in our country is entitled to feel safe and secure,” he added. “Voicing words that commit to a stand against anti-Semitism requires a corresponding effort in visible action.”
The Muslim Council of Britain responded to the rabbi’s article by saying that “racism wherever it comes from is unacceptable” and that “too many [politicians] have sat silent”.
The council said in a statement it would remain non-partisan but added that Islamophobia was “particularly acute in the Conservative party” and that “it is abundantly clear to many Muslims that the Conservative party tolerate Islamophobia”.
A council spokesperson said British Muslims “will listen to the chief rabbi and agree on the importance of voting with their conscience”.
Mr Corbyn also hit out at reports of Islamophobia within the Conservative party.
He said: “I invite all parties to adopt the processes that we adopt. We do not tolerate any form of Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, or anything else within our party.
“And I invite the Conservative Party to address the issue of Islamophobia that appears to be a problem within their party.”
Mr Welby called on parties to “make it an absolute priority to offer positive reassurance and avoid anything that increases the perception of fear”.