The UK’s Chief Rabbi has strongly criticised Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn over his handling of allegations of anti-Semitism, in an unprecedented intervention during the final weeks of the election campaign.
The Jewish leader urged everyone in Britain to “vote with their conscience” in the upcoming general election.
Labour has repeatedly defended its handling of cases of anti-semitism, and has said it is ” taking robust action to root out” the problem.
However, the party is currently under investigation by the Equality and Human Rights Commission watchdog following a string of complaints against it.
The probe, which will report in the New Year, will look at whether the party has responded to allegations of anti-semitism “in a lawful, efficient and effective manner” and whether “unlawful acts have been committed by the party or its employees or agents”.
Rabbi Mirvis said Jews had “been treated by many as an irritant, as opposed to a minority community with genuine concerns” for questioning Labour’s stance on anti-semitism.
“Some politicians have shown courage but too many have sat silent,” he said.
“We have learned the hard way that speaking out means that we will be demonised by faceless social media trolls and accused of being partisan or acting in bad faith by those who still think of this as an orchestrated political smear. Yet, I ask myself: should the victims of racism be silenced by the fear of yet further vilification?”
Accusing supporters of Mr Corbyn of having “hounded parliamentarians, members and even staff out of the party for challenging anti-Jewish racism”, Rabbi Mirvis said the response from Labour had been “utterly inadequate”.
Addressing the Labour leader’s own behaviour, he said: “How complicit in prejudice would a leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition have to be to be considered unfit for office? Would associations with those who have incited hatred against Jews be enough? Would describing as ‘friends’ those who endorse the murder of Jews be enough? It seems not.”
Rabbi Mirvis also challenged a claim from Mr Corbyn last week that the party has “investigated every single case” of anti-semitism brought to its attention as a “mendacious fiction”.
He warned: “According to the Jewish Labour Movement, there are at least 130 outstanding cases before the party, some dating back years, and thousands more have been reported but remain unresolved.
“The party leadership have never understood that their failure is not just one of procedure, which can be remedied with additional staff or new processes. It is a failure to see this as a human problem rather than a political one. It is a failure of culture. It is a failure of leadership. A new poison – sanctioned from the top – has taken root in the Labour Party.”
While the Chief Rabbi said it is “not my place to tell any person how they should vote”, he concluded: “I simply pose the question: What will the result of this election say about the moral compass of our country? When December 12 arrives, I ask every person to vote with their conscience. Be in no doubt, the very soul of our nation is at stake.”
In response, a Labour spokesperson said: “Jeremy Corbyn is a lifelong campaigner against antisemitism and has made absolutely clear it has no place in our party and society and that no one who engages in it does so in his name.
“A Labour government will guarantee the security of the Jewish community, defend and support the Jewish way of life, and combat rising antisemitism in our country and across Europe. Our race and faith manifesto, launched today, sets out our policies to achieve this.”
The party also said that anti-semitism complaints “account for about 0.1% of the Labour Party membership”, and that “polls show anti-semitism is more prevalent among Conservative than Labour supporters”.
Labour meanwhile challenged the figure of 130 outstanding cases as “inaccurate”, and said it was “categorically untrue to suggest there are thousands of outstanding cases”.
They added: “We are taking robust action to root out anti-Semitism in the party, with swift suspensions, processes for rapid expulsions and an education programme for members.”