While the irony may not be lost on many pundits, with the Murdoch Times, whose ultimate owner had a most unfortunate recent rant at the “Jewish owned press”, and the Daily Mail, whose record in the 1930s, and indeed recently with its “Disloyal Jew” attacks on the memory of Ed Miliband’s father, running the story, the intervention in the General Election campaign of the Chief Rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis, is significant and not to be taken lightly.
Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis ((c) BBC)
As the BBC has reported, “In his article, the Orthodox chief rabbi of Great Britain and Northern Ireland - who is the spiritual leader of the United Synagogue, the largest umbrella group of Jewish communities in the country - says raising his concerns 'ranks among the most painful moments I have experienced since taking office’ … But he claims ‘the overwhelming majority of British Jews are gripped by anxiety’ at the prospect of a Labour victory in 12 December's general election”. And there is more.
He has told “The way in which the leadership of the Labour Party has dealt with anti-Jewish racism is incompatible with the British values of which we are so proud - of dignity and respect for all people … It has left many decent Labour members and parliamentarians, both Jewish and non-Jewish, ashamed of what has transpired”.
It is possible to disagree with the Chief Rabbi. But it is totally out of order to dismiss his concerns. Yes, the Jewish Labour Movement has called Rabbi Mirvis “absolutely right”, and they are consistently hostile to Labour’s current leadership, but that does not invalidate the feeling among some Jewish voices that Labour still has a problem.
Yes, Labour has been suspending and indeed expelling members accused of anti-Semitism. The party has adopted the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism throughout, something that other parties - hello Tories - have been ambiguous about recently. Labour alone among the major parties has put in place an education programme on anti-Semitism. And we know other parties have crossed the anti-Semitism line recently.
It was the Tories who lost a candidate over anti-Semitism accusations (Aberdeen North), and the same party has had some serious recent lapses, notably Suella Braverman and her “Cultural Marxism” attack, Michael Gove conflating Jews and Israel, Priti Patel talking about a “North London Metropolitan Elite”, and Jacob Rees Mogg dragging up an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory to attack Oliver Letwin and John Bercow.
All that is true. But it is no reason to be defensive or dismissive of the Chief Rabbi. His concerns should be the concerns of all Labour members. As Sunny Hundal has observed, “I think Labour should have done far more to assuage concerns of Jewish leaders than dismiss them … Labour activists who are responding by attacking the Chief Rabbi are not helping their cause. Empathy wins people over, not vindictiveness”.
And Owen Jones was on the same page. “The correct response isn't to attack the Chief Rabbi, it's to acknowledge the hurt of many Jews, to say Labour handled the issue badly, that it's improved but there's more to do, and to urge consistent anti-racism, including opposing the gratuitous racism of our government”. Quite.
Labour must take the concerns of the Chief Rabbi on board. That is all.
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