Posted on Apr 24, 2018

    Jewish Leaders Say Their Meeting With Jeremy Corbyn About Anti-Semitism Was A “Disappointing Missed Opportunity”

    Jeremy Corbyn's attempt to put an end to the anti-semitism row which has engulfed the Labour party appeared to have failed on Tuesday night after his meeting with Jewish leaders ended in further criticism.

    Hannah Mckay / Reuters

    Jeremy Corbyn has refused to agree that Labour MPs shouldn't share platforms with people expelled from the party for anti-semitism, Jewish groups said on Tuesday night after a meeting with the leader they described as a "disappointing missed opportunity".

    Following weeks of criticism of Labour's handling of antisemitism allegations, Corbyn met the Jewish Leadership Council and the Board of Deputies at Westminster on Tuesday evening in a bid to repair relations.

    While Corbyn described the meeting as positive and constructive, the groups released a joint statement that made clear their dismay at the party leader's response.

    It was followed by an even stronger statement from Labour Against Anti-Semitism, in which the pressure group said: "It is hard to see where the Labour party goes from here," and went on to describe what it saw as the "arrogance and complacency" of Corbyn and his team as "astonishing".

    In a statement released shortly after the meeting, Corbyn described the talks, which lasted more than two hours, as "a positive and constructive meeting about tackling anti-semitism."

    This take was at odds with a statement from Jonathan Goldstein, chair of the Jewish Leadership Council and Jonathan Arkush, the president of the Board of Deputies, who said said that while they "welcomed Mr. Corbyn’s personal involvement in the discussion and his new comments recognising and apologising for antisemitism in the Labour Party" the Labour leader had "failed to agree to any of the concrete actions we asked for in our letter to him of 28th March."

    Labour sources later told BuzzFeed News "there were lots of areas of agreement," and that there was "agreement that elected officials should not share platforms with people found guilty of antisemitism."

    They said: "Jeremy made clear he was taking a personal lead on this issue and has clearly and repeatedly said that concerns about antisemitism must not be dismissed smears and people must not be criticised for speaking out about antisemitism, and that those who do so do not do this in his name."

    NEW: Labour's Andrew Gwynne suggests Jewish leaders are wrong to claim Corbyn ignored requests for concrete action. "That's not my understanding of what was agreed," he says. "I'm not sure how they've interpreted the meeting."

    The actions, which many of Corbyn’s critics felt were modest, included having a fixed timetable to deal with antisemitism cases, and accepting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism, which has been adopted by organisations including the police service, the government, the Crown Prosecution Service and 120 local authorities – many of them Labour.

    Labour sources told BuzzFeed that two of the main cases – Ken Livingstone and Jackie Walker – should be dealt with by the end of July. They went on: "The Party is looking at introducing time limits, but we need to look at legal issues around this."

    They added: "The Board and Jewish Leadership Council were asked for their input on political education and training programmes for members which are currently being developed, which will include IHRA definition which Party adopted in December 2016."

    However, the two leaders said in the statement that it had been "a difficult yet important meeting", adding that they were "disappointed that Mr Corbyn’s proposals fell short of the minimum level of action which our letter suggested."

    Yui Mok / PA Wire/PA Images

    “And yet, in this meeting, the leader and the general secretary would not commit that they would accept the IHRA definition with all of its examples’, a spokesperson for the Jewish Leadership Council said.

    The Jewish groups described the six suggestions they put forward as "reasonable", having also asked the party to expediate the long-standing cases involving Ken Livingstone and Jackie Walker; that no Labour MP should share a platform with somebody expelled or suspended for antisemitism; and that there should be transparent oversight of their disciplinary process.

    "Words in letters and newspaper articles will never be enough. We welcome the fact that Mr Corbyn’s words have changed but it is action by which the Jewish community will judge him and the Labour Party", the statement from the two organisations said.

    Speaking to reporters after the meeting a spokesperson for the Board of Deputies said: “His words are going in the right place, that’s for sure, but the actions we have yet to see follow. We had already set that out in the letter of course… prior to being there, so there were no surprises, and yet we didn’t get the confirmation and we did press and press in the meeting.”

    “Each of the points that we’ve raised in that open statement were pressed at some length and some details, and in the end all we were able to get was that they would agree to take away and consider those proposals”, a spokesperson for the Jewish Leadership Council added.

    The two representatives said they would meet with Labour again in July to discuss how the party had progressed in its work to tackle the problem.

    “It was a tough meeting, it was a difficult meeting, but we were relentless in what we pushed home”, the Board of Deputies spokesperson said, adding: “we will be watching and we will be monitoring closely, and we will be checking all of the things that they are saying, but continuing to push for the changes that we need to see.”

    Yui Mok / PA Wire/PA Images

    Labour Against Anti-Semitism (LAS) later released a statement in which the group said: "The disappointing outcome of this evening’s meeting between the Jewish community and Jeremy Corbyn and Jennie Formby further exposes the apparent lack of genuine commitment by the Labour Party leadership towards tackling antisemitism within the Labour movement.

    "The Board of Deputies and Jewish Leadership Council attended the meeting with Mr Corbyn in good faith, with a list of requests that, if accepted, would have done much to demonstrate that Mr Corbyn was indeed ready to listen to the Jewish community’s concerns. That he appears to have been unwilling to accede to a single one indicates that he has simply been paying lip service to tackling racial discrimination against Jews in his party."

    LAS added: "It is hard to see where the Labour Party goes from here. The dark stain of racism has never been more nakedly visible on any major British
    party in over 100 years than it is now, yet the arrogance and complacency of Mr Corbyn and his team is astonishing: they appear to believe that they are immune from the judgement of both the British people and of history. They are not."

    Describing an apparent reversal of a pledge to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance's definition of anti-semitism as "a disgrace", LAS concluded: "The Jewish community will not be bullied and will not be silenced. It is time for all decent British people associated with Labour to
    stand in solidarity with us and be counted. Enough is enough."

    Corbyn, who had been joined at the meeting by Gwynne and new general secretary Jennie Formby, said in a statement that he was "grateful to the Board of Deputies, the Jewish Leadership Council and the Community Security Trust for a positive and constructive meeting about tackling antisemitism" and said he was "absolutely committed to rooting out antisemitism from our party and our society."

    “When members of Jewish communities express genuine anxieties, we must recognise them as we would those of any other community", he continued. "Their concerns are not 'smears'. Jews belong in the Labour Party and we are utterly committed to making it a safe and welcoming place for them.

    “I have charged our new General Secretary Jennie Formby with improving our disciplinary procedures as her top priority to ensure all complaints are dealt with swiftly and fairly. We are grateful for the input from Jewish community groups, who we will continue to listen to carefully.

    “We will lay out the further steps we are taking in the coming weeks. We will continue to engage and work with Jewish community organisations to deal with this issue. Our party will not fail our Jewish brothers and sisters.”

    The full joint statement from the Jewish Leadership Council and Board of Deputies of British Jews read:

    Our meeting with Jeremy Corbyn today was a disappointing missed opportunity regarding the problem of antisemitism in the Labour Party. We welcomed Mr. Corbyn’s personal involvement in the discussion and his new comments recognising and apologising for antisemitism in the Labour Party but he failed to agree to any of the concrete actions we asked for in our letter to him of 28th March.

    Last month the Jewish community held an unprecedented demonstration outside Parliament to express our hurt and anger about the level of antisemitism in the Labour Party, and Jeremy Corbyn’s failure to take strong action against it. Following that demonstration we wrote to Mr. Corbyn to set out six areas of concrete action he and the party could take to address the antisemitism that has grown under his leadership. These represented the minimum level of action the community expected after more than two years of inactivity. Today we met Mr. Corbyn to convey in no uncertain terms the Jewish community’s feelings to him in person and to discuss his response to our proposals. It was a difficult yet important meeting.

    We are disappointed that Mr Corbyn’s proposals fell short of the minimum level of action which our letter suggested. In particular, they did not agree in the meeting with our proposals that there should be a fixed timetable to deal with antisemitism cases; that they should expedite the long-standing cases involving Ken Livingstone and Jackie Walker; that no MP should share a platform with somebody expelled or suspended for antisemitism; that they adopt the full International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism with all its examples and clauses; that there should be transparent oversight of their disciplinary process.

    Words in letters and newspaper articles will never be enough. We welcome the fact that Mr Corbyn’s words have changed but it is action by which the Jewish community will judge him and the Labour Party. Our sole objective from this meeting was to build trust with Mr Corbyn, but this will not be possible until and unless he and the party turn their many strong words against antisemitism into equally strong actions in order to bring about a deep cultural change in his supporters’ attitude to Jews.

    Thousands of British Jews did not demonstrate outside Parliament just for a few lawyers and another newspaper article; they demanded action and so do we. We will hold the Labour Party to account for any future failures and continue to represent the interests of British Jews with clarity and resolve. We also commit to do our utmost to work with all those within Labour who want to help make it a safe and equal space for all of its members.

    Hannah Al-Othman is a political correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.

    Contact Hannah Al-Othman at hannah.al-othman@buzzfeed.com.

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