May calls on Corbyn to respond to rabbi’s anti-semitism concerns

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May. Picture: Sebastien Courdji/Pool via AP
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May. Picture: Sebastien Courdji/Pool via AP
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Prime Minister Theresa May has waded into the row over anti-semitism in the Labour Party by calling on Jeremy Corbyn to directly respond to stinging criticism from a former chief rabbi.

The intervention comes after Lord Jonathan Sacks branded the Labour leader an “anti-semite” and compared Mr Corbyn’s comments on Zionists to Enoch Powell’s inflammatory “rivers of blood” speech.

During a tour of Africa, Mrs May said: “Anti-semitism is racism. We should all condemn racism in all its forms.

“Lord Sacks was a long-standing chief rabbi. He raised significant concerns, but it’s not just him – members of the Labour Party have raised concerns as well.

“I think the leader of the Labour Party needs to respond to those concerns.”

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Lord Sacks’ scathing remarks, in which he claimed Mr Corbyn had given support to “racists, terrorists, and dealers of hate”, drew an angry response from Labour.
Condemnation of the Leader of the Opposition by the crossbench peer, who served as chief rabbi between 1991-2013, comes just a week before Labour’s ruling National Executive Committee (NEC) again considers its code of conduct on anti-semitism.
Labour hit back at the comments by branding them “absurd and offensive”.
Lord Sacks’ remarks came after footage from 2013 emerged of Mr Corbyn attacking a group of British Zionists who had criticised Palestinian ambassador Manuel Hassassian.
Mr Corbyn said: “They clearly have two problems.
“One is they don’t want to study history and secondly, having lived in this country for a very long time, probably all of their lives, they don’t understand English irony either.”
Lord Sacks told the New Statesman: “The recently disclosed remarks by Jeremy Corbyn are the most offensive statement made by a senior British politician since Enoch Powell’s 1968 ‘rivers of blood’ speech.
“It was divisive, hateful and like Powell’s speech it undermines the existence of an entire group of British citizens by depicting them as essentially alien.
“We can only judge Jeremy Corbyn by his words and his actions.
“He has given support to racists, terrorists and dealers of hate who want to kill Jews and remove Israel from the map.
“When he implies that, however long they have lived here, Jews are not fully British, he is using the language of classic pre-war European anti-Semitism.
“When challenged with such facts, the evidence for which is before our eyes, first he denies, then he equivocates, then he obfuscates.
“This is low, dishonest and dangerous.
“He has legitimised the public expression of hate, and where he leads, others will follow.
“Now, within living memory of the Holocaust, and while Jews are being murdered elsewhere in Europe for being Jews, we have an anti-Semite as the leader of the Labour Party and Her Majesty’s Opposition.
“That is why Jews feel so threatened by Mr Corbyn and those who support him.”
A Labour Party spokesman said: “This comparison with the race-baiting Enoch Powell is absurd and offensive.
“Jeremy Corbyn described a particular group of pro-Israel activists as Zionists in the accurate political sense, not as a synonym or code for Jewish people.
“Jeremy Corbyn is determined to tackle anti-Semitism both within the Labour Party and in wider society and the Labour Party is committed to rebuilding trust with the Jewish community.”
The Labour leader has previously said that his remarks had been defending the ambassador from “what I thought were deliberate misrepresentations” by people “for whom English was a first language, when it isn’t for the ambassador”.