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Jeremy Corbyn 'must accept antisemitism claims are justified'

Jonathan Goldstein was elected JLC chair in May, 2017 Jonathan Goldstein was elected JLC chair in May, 2017

Jeremy Corbyn will not resolve Labour’s antisemitism crisis until he properly engages with mainstream British Jewry and “accepts our claims are justified”, the Jewish Leadership Council's chair has warned.

In an interview with the JC nearly eight weeks after a critical meeting with the Labour leader, Jonathan Goldstein said Mr Corbyn's failure to challenge anti-Zionist voices on the "fringe" of the community "spoke volumes" about his commitment to solving the problem.

Mr Goldstein pointed to the selection of Gordon Nardell QC, a hard-left activist, as Labour's in-house lawyer overseeing antisemitism complaints, and the inflammatory comments of Jewish Voice For Labour founder Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi during a radio interview last week, as signs of the climate Mr Corbyn has allowed to flourish under his leadership.

"In the meeting the JLC and the Board of Deputies had with Mr Corbyn, I asked him to publicly disassociate himself from JVL," Mr Goldstein said.

"Privately he said to me that these people 'did not speak for him'. I asked Mr Corbyn directly to come outside and say publicly that the people did not represent his views.

"But the Labour leader's lack of action on this issue speaks volumes - especially when he seems so happy to speak out on so much else."

Gordon Nardell Gordon Nardell (Photo: 20 Essex Street Chambers)

On LBC on Friday, Ms Wimborne-Idrissi claimed criticism of Mr Nardell's appointment was coming from campaigners and MPs such as John Mann who "will only be happy if we have a QC in the pocket of the Israeli Embassy."

Mr Goldstein called this "nothing less than a classic antisemitic trope... one that Mr Corbyn should have wasted no time in condemning".

He added: "If Mr Corbyn had spent 10 per cent of the time over the years with our community compared to the time he has spent with anti-Zionists we would not be in the situation we are in today.

"He has not engaged with our community. He has only engaged with the fringe, with people completely outside mainstream British Jewry. 

"The Gordon Nardell's, the Jenny Manson's, the Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi's, they're not involved with Norwood, they're not involved with Jewish Care.

"These problems will only get worse until Mr Corbyn properly engages with our community - and learns."

But Mr Goldstein also sought to encourage the left-leaning activists who have refused to quit the Labour Party under Mr Corbyn - despite holding progressive pro-Zionist values that others in the party were openly challenging.

The JLC leader also chose to attend last week's Jewish Labour Movement AGM, where he praised those present for "sticking their necks out".

He told the JC: "[The JLM's] work in fighting this pernicious evil from within the party is vital. You have Jewish Labour members who are attending meetings, reporting incidents, calling out antisemitism.

"We should not have to choose between our political principles and our religion.

"This is an unacceptable position for anyone to be in. To be a Jew and to feel that one of the main political parties is not a safe space for you is unconscionable.

"No one deserves to be politically homeless, but the situation as it currently is, is rendering many in the community as such."

Labour MP Luciana Berger addresses a demonstration against antisemitism within her party Labour MP Luciana Berger addresses a demonstration against antisemitism within her party (Photo: Getty Images)

Mr Goldstein also had stern words for those "from outside of the Labour tradition" within the community who had labelled those remaining within Mr Corbyn's party as "traitors".

"Let me say clearly that the leadership of the community reject this," he said. "Staying and fighting, even against the odds, is a worthy cause and deserves respect rather than abuse.

"The notion we should create this no-go zone within the Labour Party is misguided."

Mr Goldstein praised Labour MPs Luciana Berger, Dame Louise Ellman, Ruth Smeeth and John Mann who have openly confronted Mr Corbyn over antisemitism within their party.

"We felt it was crucial when Luciana confronted Mr Corbyn over his support for the now infamous antisemitic mural to support her," he said.

"The JLC sees itself as the body, together with the Board, to mobilise the community."

Despite the depressing reality of the fight against antisemitism, Mr Goldstein said that the last few months have also been "momentous" and the energy with the community "has been positive and this is something we must seize upon."

The prospect of a follow-up meeting with Mr Corbyn and Labour General Secretary Jennie Formby next month as originally scheduled was by no means a certainty, Mr Goldstein admitted,  with neither side having communicated since they first met in April.

Mr Goldstein said: "We have a fair way to go before we can say we are out of the woods on antisemitism within Labour but I am confident our voices are being heard across the wider community.

"We won't win this battle if we only talk to ourselves. We have allies everywhere and we need to mobilise them and work with them.

"Britain is not a racist country and I believe good people everywhere will start to understand that this is not something that sits comfortably with them.”

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