Religious leaders weigh in on Labour's anti-Semitism 'poison'

26 November 2019, 06:33 | Updated: 26 November 2019, 08:22

The Archbishop of Canterbury has commented
The Archbishop of Canterbury has commented. Picture: PA
EJ Ward

By EJ Ward

Britain's Chief Rabbi has issued a stark warning about Labour coming to power, saying that most Jewish people are 'gripped by anxiety' about Jeremy Corbyn coming to No10.

The Archbishop of Canterbury appeared to support to the remarks by Ephraim Mirvis, saying the "unprecedented statement" should serve to "alert us to the deep sense of insecurity and fear felt by many British Jews."

Mr Welby wrote: "Everyone in our country is entitled to feel safe and secure. They should be able to live in accordance with their beliefs and freely express their culture and faith."

Allegations of anti-Semitism have plagued Labour and Mr Corbyn since he was elected to the leadership in September 2015.

Thirteen Labour MPs have quit the party since 2017 at least partly in protest at its handling of antisemitism.

Mr Corbyn has insisted repeatedly that he is not antisemitic and the party has defended its processes for dealing with complaints.

Ephraim Mirvis used an article in the Times newspaper to warn that the “very soul of our nation is at stake” in next month’s general election if Labour gets into power.

In a rare intervention into politics, Mr Mirvis said that “a new poison” has taken hold in Labour “sanctioned from the very top”.

He said that Mr Corbyn's dealing with the party's perceived antisemitism problem made him "unfit for office." The religious leader wrote that British Jews are gripped by an understandable and justified anxiety.

Labour hit back, rejecting the Chief Rabbi’s claims and insisting: "Jeremy Corbyn is a lifelong campaigner against antisemitism and has made absolutely clear it has no place in our party and society and that no one who engages in it does so in his name."

Justin Welby, the most senior Church of England official said his Church was "very conscious of our own history of antisemitism," but he urged people take the Chief Rabbi's message as an opportunity to "ensure our words and actions properly reflect our commitments to mutual flourishing and inclusion, for the common good."

Luciana Berger, who quit Labour in February over the party's alleged anti-Semitic prejudice, said on Twitter: "Unprecedented and devastating intervention from the Chief Rabbi.

"During the the last meeting I had with Jeremy Corbyn at the end of 2017 I told him about the many public and private Facebook groups that were littered with antisemitic posts which used the Labour leader's name/and photo in their group name.

"Nothing was done about it following our meeting.

"Tonight the party says 'that no one who engages in it (antisemitism) does so in his (Jeremy Corbyn's) name.' But that is exactly what has happened."

Ms Berger is standing as a Liberal Democrat candidate in the north London constituency of Golders Green in the General Election on December 12.

Another former Labour MP, Ian Austin, also spoke in support of the Chief Rabbi.

Mr Austin, who quit Labour in February, said on Twitter: "It is unprecedented for the Chief Rabbi to have to do this.

"It is heartbreaking to see a party so many of us joined to fight racism and which had such a proud record of fighting for equality reduced to this.

"Utterly shameful. A complete disgrace. Corbyn & co should be so ashamed."

Mr Austin has resigned from Parliament and is not running in the election.

The Chancellor, Sajid Javid, said he was "saddened" by the Chief Rabbi's comments.

"Very saddened to read this. To think the Chief Rabbi of a European nation has to say this about a contender for high office in 2019," the Chancellor wrote on Twitter.

"We should all reflect on the state of our politics."

Additional reporting by Megan White.

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