UK Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn slammed Britain’s former chief rabbi on Sunday, calling his comments on Labour’s and his own antisemitism “beyond excessive” and “offensive.”
Lord Jonathan Sacks had criticized Corbyn for his claim that “Zionists” had “no sense of English irony” despite “having lived in this country for a very long time, probably all their lives.”
Sacks referred to Corbyn’s remarks as “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.” Powell became notorious for his anti-immigrant stance and was widely derided as racist.
Sacks then explicitly called Corbyn “an antisemite.”
In an extensive interview with Andrew Marr on the BBC, Corbyn blasted Sacks, saying, “I do actually find that quite hurtful and quite offensive. … I will say to rabbi Sacks, with all due respect, that is beyond excessive.”
Marr asked Corbyn directly whether he was an antisemite, to which Corbyn declared, “No, absolutely not” and praised himself for his opposition to racism.
Corbyn noted that his party has now adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism and “that’s been included in our Labour party processes.” Labour originally left several clauses relating to Israel out of the definition, then, under severe pressure, adopted the full definition but with a caveat defending criticism of Israel.
Corbyn acknowledged that Jews have the right to define antisemitism, but when asked by Marr about an incident in which Jewish MP Margaret Hodge called him “an antisemite and a racist,” Corbyn appeared to backtrack, saying, “I completely and utterly reject the idea that I’m any kind of racist. … the matter with Margaret Hodge is closed.”
Asked about his initial defense of an antisemitic mural, Corbyn said, “It also has other symbols as well, doesn’t it?” Asked directly whether he considered the mural antisemitic, he demurred, “I think it should never have been put up.”
Pressed on his remark about Zionists lacking “English irony,” Corbyn claimed he was defending a pro-Palestinian speaker and the statement “was not intended to be antisemitic in any way.”
Told that Jewish Labour MP Luciana Berger had said that the remarks made her feel unwelcome in her own country, Corbyn said, “Our party has members of every faith and none, and it is an open, welcoming, and safe place.”
Marr then asked about Corbyn’s participation in a memorial service for Palestinian Black September terrorists, some of whom were involved in the notorious 1972 massacre of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics. Corbyn professed ignorance of the identities of those being honored, for whom he laid a wreath, claiming he was only honoring civilians killed in an Israeli raid on PLO headquarters.
“I thought it was right to take part in what is a very solemn commemoration of it, it wasn’t in any way commemorating Black September and I wasn’t even sure at that time who was in the cemetery beyond those who had been killed in the raid,” he said.
Asked whether he considered the establishment of Israel a “racist endeavor,” he replied, “No. … I think it’s right that people should be able to discuss the establishment of the State of Israel, but recognize the existence of the State of Israel … and not prevent that kind of debate.”
Claiming Israel is a racist state is considered antisemitic under the IHRA definition.
Pressed on whether he felt remorse over his statements and actions, Corbyn said no, and again praised himself as standing against racism.
With the Labour party’s annual conference about to take place, a new poll showed that Corbyn’s antisemitism scandals have undermined his support among the public.
Citing a recent YouGov poll, the UK’s Jewish Chronicle reported that 46 percent of respondents said they associated Labour with the topic of antisemitism. One third felt Corbyn himself was personally antisemitic, while 23 percent feel Labour is institutionally antisemitic. 35 percent of those likely to vote for Labour said they would be less likely to do so if it does not address the issue.
Almost half of respondents believed Labour has a serious problem with antisemitism. 58 percent felt Corbyn had dealt with the problem in an incompetent manner, and 52 percent felt he was dishonest in doing so.