BoD’s Arkush: The Consequences of Jeremy Corbyn’s ‘antisemitic views’

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Jonathan Arkush, the outgoing President of the Board of Deputies, said British Jews were for the first time asking “do we have a future here?”, which he blamed on the Labour leader’s failure to stamp out anti-Semitism in his party.

Mr Arkush, one of two Jewish leaders who met Mr Corbyn to discuss the problem last month, said it was time for him to recognise “his real views about Israel”.

He also criticised the Archbishop of Canterbury for not providing a “stronger, clearer voice” in support of the Jewish community. Labour described his comments as “unfounded and outrageous”.

It comes as a Labour working group recommended measures to speed up the internal investigation of anti-Semitism allegations, with all cases anonymised to prevent any bias.

Mr Arkush, who became President of the Jewish Board of Deputies in 2015, the same year Mr Corbyn became the leader of the Labour Party, has never before directly accused him of anti-Semitism.

But in his final interview before stepping down from the role on Friday, he told The Telegraph he believes Mr Corbyn “has views which are anti-Semitic, and he has problematic views.”

He said: “With the election of Jeremy Corbyn, it seemed people who had a habit of participating in anti-Semitic discourse thought some sort of space had opened up for them, when they could say things that previously they knew [they couldn’t].”

In April Mr Arkush met Mr Corbyn for more than two hours, together with Jonathan Goldstein, the President of the Jewish Leadership Council. Mr Arkush revealed he confronted Mr Corbyn about his views, and asked him: “Why is there nothing good you can say about Israel? And he couldn’t answer. He was silent.”

He added: “His associations are clear. He is a patron of Palestine Solidarity Campaign – if you look at its logo and language, it’s quite clear its world picture has no room for Israel.

“Delegitimising the state of Israel is anti-Semitic. He was a chairman of Stop the War, which is responsible for some of the worst anti-Israel discourse. He has never disavowed that sentiment. Is this double speak? What are we supposed to think?

“If he shares the prevalent discourse about Israel, then that view is unquestionably anti-Semitic.”

Weeks before their meeting with Mr Corbyn, Mr Arkush and Mr Goldstein led an unprecedented protest against Labour by the Jewish community outside Parliament.

Mr Arkush said: “We have always felt Britain is a generous, fair-minded, exceptionally tolerant, mutually respectful country where Jews have been secure, well accepted and in return they have contributed vastly.

“That is why I am so troubled that, particularly in the last few months, there is an increasingly widespread question asked over the dinner table – which is, do we have a future here, and what’s that future going to look like? In its current, widespread form, it is very new.”

Asked if he attributes this new anxiety in the community to Mr Corbyn’s leadership, he said: “Yeah. I do.”

He said that if Mr Corbyn became Prime Minister: “Will it become worse? Yes, it will be bound to. Unless he took steps that were very clear that firmly, clearly and effectively addressed all forms of racism.”

Mr Corbyn would need to tell Jews that he “will not accept a discourse which denies the existence of their own land to the Jewish people…I think we are all entitled to some clarity on his real views about Israel”.

While he says the situation is not yet as bad as in France, where Jews are “advised not to wear a Jewish symbol outwardly, because you will suffer the risk of being physically beaten” he says “the prejudice we are seeing is bad enough.  It is causing people to say – what is our future here? Inevitably – if you go down that train of thought, you then ask, if we don’t have a future here, where can we go?

“Another factor in the equation is that Israel has succeeded in building a modern, democratic, successful society. Many young Jewish people are now considering Israel as a future.”

Mr Corbyn is due to meet Jewish leaders in July, but Mr Arkush said Labour’s lack of action in kicking out members accused of anti-Semitism risks derailing the meeting unless “real progress” starts to be seen.

He said: “We are not prepared to have meetings for the sake of meetings, which will confer some sort of spurious legitimacy on Labour’s attempts to deal with anti-Semitism.”

He also criticised The Most Reverend Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, saying: “I would like to have seen a stronger, clearer voice coming from the Church of England, including from Justin Welby.

“He didn’t [speak out] – and he should have done. And I am disappointed because I have had strong personal contacts with the Archbishop and his office. And it’s not like we haven’t asked.”

A spokesman for Mr Corbyn said: “These are unfounded and outrageous personal attacks without any evidence to support them.

“Jeremy has been absolutely clear that he is a militant opponent of anti-Semitism and is committed to driving it out of our movement. Our party has deep roots in the Jewish community and is campaigning to increase support and confidence in Labour among Jewish people in the UK.

“Jonathan Arkush’s attempt to conflate strong criticism of Israeli state policies with anti-Semitism is wrong and undermines the fight both against anti-Semitism and for justice for the Palestinians. It should be rejected outright.”