By Cnaan Liphshiz
(JTA) – In an unprecedented move, Britain’s chief rabbi warned ahead of the country’s general elections that the Labour Party’s antisemitism problem means that the “very soul of our nation is at stake.” Ephraim Mirvis made his intervention, which is an unusual foray into partisan politics for a chief rabbi, on Tuesday, Nov. 26, in a column published in the online edition of The Times of London.
“It is not my place to tell any person how they should vote,” Mirvis wrote, adding: “I regret being in this situation at all.” But in the column, he listed antisemitism scandals involving only Labour and its leader since 2015, the far-left politician Jeremy Corbyn. “Many members of the Jewish community can hardly believe that this is the same party that they proudly called their political home for more than a century. It can no longer claim to be the party of diversity, equality and anti-racism. This is the Labour Party in name only,” he wrote.
Mirvis then wondered “how complicit in prejudice would a leader of Her Majesty’s opposition have to be in order to be considered unfit for high office,” adding: “Would associations with those who have openly incited hatred against Jews be enough? Would support for a racist mural, depicting powerful hook-nosed Jews supposedly getting rich at the expense of the weak and downtrodden be enough? Would describing as ‘friends’ those who endorse and even perpetrate the murder of Jews be enough? It seems not.”
Come the December 12 election, “the very soul of our nation is at stake,” he wrote.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, the leader of the Church of England, and the Muslim Council of Britain expressed sympathy for the Jewish communities’ sentiments as expressed by Mirvis.
His column “highlights the real fear many British Jews have, regarding the unacceptable presence of antisemitism in Britain and in politics today,” the Muslim Council wrote in a statement, in which it reiterated its concerns about alleged anti-Muslim sentiment expressed by Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his right-leaning Conservative Party. The archbishop, Justin Wells, wrote on Twitter that the fact that Mirvis “should be compelled to make such an unprecedented statement at this time ought to alert us to the deep sense of insecurity and fear felt by many British Jews.”
Corbyn in 2013 defended a mural depicting Jewish men playing Monopoly on the backs of dark-skinned men. In 2014, he laid a wreath on a monument commemorating Palestinian terrorists who murdered Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics. He called Hamas and Hezbollah his friends in 2009.
Under Corbyn, antisemitism and anti-Israel vitriol proliferated in Labour’s ranks, prompting the Equality and Human Rights Commission, a government watchdog, to launch its first inquiry into the handling of racism in any mainstream British party. Corbyn has denied harboring or encouraging any antisemitic bias.
Amanda Bowman, vice president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, said Mirvis’ call is unprecedented, adding that it is “sadly reflective of how many British Jews feel.” They are “fearful that if Labour has allowed antisemitism to take hold in this way while in opposition, that things will become worse if they are in government,” she wrote in a statement Tuesday.
Main Photo: British Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis attending a ceremony in Gibraltar on June 18, 2013. (Courtesy of Mirvis)