Jeremy Corbyn has conceded that there is a problem with antisemitism in the Labour Party. Responding to last night’s forceful attack from the British Board of Jewish Deputies in a letter to them and the Jewish Leadership Council, he apologised “sincerely”. He said:
I recognise that antisemitism has surfaced within the Labour party, and has too often been dismissed as simply a matter of a few bad apples. This has caused pain and hurt to Jewish members of our Party and to the wider Jewish community in Britain. I am sincerely sorry for the pain which has been caused, and pledge to redouble my efforts to bring this anxiety to an end.
In the letter, which goes beyond any previous apology including his overnight recognition that there were “pockets” of anti-semitism in the party, he expressly apologised for failing to study the content of an anti-semitic mural in the East End of London that has been at the centre of the latest controversy. He said:
While the forms of antisemitism expressed on the far Right of politics are easily detectable, such as Holocaust denial, there needs to be a deeper understanding of what constitutes antisemitism in the labour movement. Sometimes this evil takes familiar forms – the east London mural which has caused such understandable controversy is an example. The idea of Jewish bankers and capitalists exploiting the workers of the world is an old antisemitic conspiracy theory. This was long ago, and rightly, described as “the socialism of fools.” I am sorry for not having studied the content of the mural more closely before wrongly questioning its removal in 2012.
In a much more nuanced recognition of the forms that antisemitism can take, in the letter he accepted that criticism of Israel could be antisemitic.
Newer forms of antisemitism have been woven into criticism of Israeli government. Criticism of Israel, particularly in relation to the continuing dispossession of the Palestinian people, cannot be avoided. Nevertheless, comparing Israel or the actions of Israeli governments to the Nazis, attributing criticisms of Israel to Jewish characteristics or to Jewish people in general and using abusive phraseology about supporters of Israel such as “Zio” all constitute aspects of contemporary antisemitism. And Jewish people must not be held responsible or accountable for the actions of the Israeli government.
Insisting that he is committed to eliminating antisemitism “wherever it exists”, he promised that the party would implement in full the “overdue” recommendations of the Chakrabati report.
The battle against antisemitism should never become a party political issue. It must unite all of us if we are both to honour the memory of the victims of the bestial crimes of the 20th century and build a future of equality and justice for all.
In that spirit, I must make it clear that I will never be anything other than a militant opponent of antisemitism. In this fight, I am your ally and always will be.