The leader of Britain’s principal opposition Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn has been accused by Britain’s most senior Jewish leader of holding “antisemitic views” which could drive Jewish people out of Britain if he becomes Prime Minister.
Jonathan Arkush, the outgoing President of the Board of Deputies – the country’s EJC affiliate – said British Jews were for the first time asking “do we have a future here?”, which he blamed on the Labour leader’s failure to stamp out antisemitism in his party.
Arkush, one of two Jewish leaders who met Corbyn to discuss the problem last month, said it was time for him to recognise “his real views about Israel”.
He also criticised the Archbishop of Canterbury for not providing a “stronger, clearer voice” in support of the Jewish community. Labour described his comments as “unfounded and outrageous”.
It comes as a Labour working group recommended measures to speed up the internal investigation of antisemitism allegations, with all cases anonymised to prevent any bias.
Arkush said: “With the election of Jeremy Corbyn, it seemed people who had a habit of participating in antisemitic discourse thought some sort of space had opened up for them, when they could say things that previously they knew [they couldn’t].”
In April Arkush met Corbyn for more than two hours, together with Jonathan Goldstein, the President of the Jewish Leadership Council. Arkush revealed he confronted Mr Corbyn about his views, and asked him: “Why is there nothing good you can say about Israel? And he couldn’t answer. He was silent.”
He added: “His associations are clear. He is a patron of Palestine Solidarity Campaign – if you look at its logo and language, it’s quite clear its world picture has no room for Israel.
“Delegitimising the state of Israel is antisemitic. He was a chairman of Stop the War, which is responsible for some of the worst anti-Israel discourse. He has never disavowed that sentiment. Is this double speak? What are we supposed to think?
“If he shares the prevalent discourse about Israel, then that view is unquestionably antisemitic.”
Arkush said: “We have always felt Britain is a generous, fair-minded, exceptionally tolerant, mutually respectful country where Jews have been secure, well accepted and in return they have contributed vastly.
“That is why I am so troubled that, particularly in the last few months, there is an increasingly widespread question asked over the dinner table – which is, do we have a future here, and what’s that future going to look like? In its current, widespread form, it is very new.”
Asked if he attributes this new anxiety in the community to Corbyn’s leadership, he said: “Yeah. I do.”
He said that if Corbyn became Prime Minister: “Will it become worse? Yes, it will be bound to. Unless he took steps that were very clear that firmly, clearly and effectively addressed all forms of racism.”
Corbyn would need to tell Jews that he “will not accept a discourse which denies the existence of their own land to the Jewish people…I think we are all entitled to some clarity on his real views about Israel”.
While he says the situation is not yet as bad as in France, where Jews are “advised not to wear a Jewish symbol outwardly, because you will suffer the risk of being physically beaten” he says “the prejudice we are seeing is bad enough. It is causing people to say – what is our future here? Inevitably – if you go down that train of thought, you then ask, if we don’t have a future here, where can we go?
“Another factor in the equation is that Israel has succeeded in building a modern, democratic, successful society. Many young Jewish people are now considering Israel as a future.”