Jeremy Corbyn’s commitment to tackling anti-Semitism was questioned by the Board of Deputies of British Jews as the Labour leader defended his decision to attend a Seder with a radical Jewish group.
Mr Corbyn faced fresh criticism after the Guido Fawkes website reported that he attended a meeting of the left-wing group Jewdas, which has criticised mainstream Jewish organisations for their protests over alleged anti-Semitism in his party.
Jonathan Arkush, president of the Board of Deputies, asked how the Labour leader’s commitment to be “an ally against anti-Semitism” could be taken seriously after attending the event.
Mr Corbyn said the Seder feast was “very interesting” and involved “talking to a lot of young people about their experiences of modern Britain”.
He added that “anti-Semitism is a vile and evil thing” and Labour had a process for dealing with it.
His comments came as Labour’s new general secretary, Jennie Formby, used her first day in the job to tell members “the stain of anti-Semitic attitudes must be completely eradicated” within the party.
In a statement last week, Jewdas accused the Board of Deputies, Jewish Leadership Council and the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) of “playing a dangerous game with people’s lives”.
Allegations linking Mr Corbyn to anti-Semitism were “the work of cynical manipulations by people whose express loyalty is to the Conservative Party and the right wing of the Labour Party”, it said.
Mr Arkush said Jewdas viewed the anti-Semitism issue as a “smear” and “if Jeremy Corbyn goes to their event, how can we take his stated commitment to be an ally against anti-Semitism seriously?”
But the Labour leader, on a campaign visit to Swindon, said: “It was a Seder event, which is a celebration of Passover, which I celebrate with young Jewish people from my own community and my own constituency.
“It was very interesting talking to a lot of young people about their experiences of modern Britain and I learnt a lot. Isn’t that a good thing?
“Anti-Semitism is a vile and evil thing within our society at any level, anywhere, at any time. It has got to be eradicated wherever it arises.
“If it arises in my party then we have a process for dealing with it. We examine each case and, if someone has committed any anti-Semitic act, they are suspended and could be expelled as a result of it.
“We are very clear about that and very clear in the whole of our society we cannot accept anti-Semitism in any form or indeed any other form of racism in our society.
“Communities working together achieve things together, communities divided don’t.”
Jon Lansman, founder of the Corbyn-supporting Momentum group, said the Labour leader had not told his own office he was going to the event.
Mr Lansman, who is Jewish, said: “It was his night off, he had nothing in his official diary, his office didn’t know he was there.
“So I don’t think this is as significant as it’s being made out.”
But Mr Lansman told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Well, it’s certainly not helpful to Jeremy or the cause of opposing anti-Semitism in the Labour Party as it happens ... and I think the important thing is that Jeremy is seeking to meet with mainstream Jewish organisations.”
And he suggested that Mr Corbyn - along with other members of Labour’s ruling National Executive Committee - should attend a training course on tackling “unconscious bias”.
Labour backbencher John Woodcock, a prominent critic of the party leader, said Mr Corbyn’s attendance at the Seder was “deliberately baiting the mainstream Jewish community days after they pleaded with him to tackle anti-Semitism”.
JLM spokesman Ivor Caplin said: “When we called on the leader of our party to show moral leadership and take decisive action to stamp out anti-Semitism, this is not what we had in mind.”
Jewdas shrugged off the attack and suggested to the “good Jews” in the Board of Deputies that Mr Corbyn attended their event because Jewdas throws the best Seders.
Comedian David Baddiel, who has been at the forefront of the debate over anti-Semitism in the Labour Party, rejected suggestions that Jewdas was “despised” by other members of the Jewish community.
“No, it isn’t,” he said. “They are just Jews who disagree with other Jews. Which means: Jews ... To make out that it’s somehow anti-Semitic for him to spend Seder with them just because they’re far left is balls.”
Mr Corbyn has come under sustained pressure over allegations of anti-Semitism within his party. He is facing demands to speed up the investigations into a backlog of around 70 complaints, including one against his close ally, Ken Livingstone.
Ms Formby has promised to introduce new procedures to deal with complaints and disciplinary cases