Leader comment: Jeremy Corbyn's anti-semitism problem

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn needs to show that he is passionate about opposing prejudice against Jews.

Jeremy Corbyn needs to be more passionate about opposing anti-semitism (Picture: John Devlin)

In the days following the EU referendum, a wounded David Cameron attacked Jeremy Corbyn for not doing enough as a leading Remain campaign supporter. “I’d hate to see him when he’s not trying,” the then Prime Minister told him.

Around the same time, Chris Bryant, who resigned from Mr Corbyn’s Shadow Cabinet, provided a possible explanation for the Labour leader’s apparent apathy – he was a secret Brexit supporter. “His attitude in the EU referendum was so casual, so, I think, inappropriately inept,” Mr Bryant said. “I suspect that Jeremy may have voted to leave.” Mr Corbyn has dismissed the idea but suspicions have lingered.

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Mr Corbyn’s stance on anti-semitism has been similarly inept – his excuse for sending a supportive message to the creator of an allegedly anti-semitic mural in 2012 was that he had not looked at the “deeply disturbing” image more closely. And there have been a number of other reasons why people might be concerned about Mr Corbyn’s attitudes towards Jews, as the Board of Deputies and Jewish Leadership Council laid out in an open letter. They concluded that he “cannot seriously contemplate anti-semitism because he is so ideologically fixed within a far-left worldview that is instinctively hostile to mainstream Jewish communities”. Another group, Jewish Voice for Labour, defended Mr Corbyn, accusing the BoD and JLC of “playing party politics” and stressing “Jeremy’s consistent commitment to anti-racism”.

The problem is his commitment to opposing anti-semitism specifically has been too low key, much like his support for the EU Remain campaign.

In the US, Donald Trump has raised fears he is a supporter of the far-right, for example by saying a rally of Ku Klux Klan supporters, neo-Nazis and others in Charlottesville, Virginia – at which a counter-protester was killed – included some “very fine people”. When questioned, Mr Trump insists he condemns neo-Nazis but white nationalists like Richard Spencer sense they have an ally.

Mr Corbyn risks giving a similar impression to anti-semites in Britain. He is clearly passionate about a host of issues, but he now needs to stop being so inept and demonstrate unequivocally that countering prejudice against Jews is one of them – for the sake of British society, Jewish people, the Labour party and his own.