Jeremy Corbyn is facing fresh fury over anti-Semitism today after a member of his own shadow cabinet urged him to apologise to Jews – despite him repeatedly refusing to do so.
The Labour leader was left reeling after Britain’s chief rabbi condemned him over the vile wave of hard-Left abuse wracking his party, warning he is not fit to be PM.
But Mr Corbyn responded defiantly by blaming the religious figure for failing to ‘engage’ on the issue, before refusing four times to apologise to the Jewish community In a car-crash interview with the BBC’s Andrew Neil last night.
The evasion caused fresh dismay in Labour ranks as the long-running crisis threatened to lay waste to their election campaign.
Mr Corbyn has hastily arranged to make an announcement on the NHS this morning, in an apparent attempt to move on from the debacle.
Jeremy Corbyn refused four times to apologise to the Jewish community In a car-crash interview with the BBC’s Andrew Neil last night
Mr Corbyn endured a catastrophic half-hour grilling at the hands of the veteran BBC journalist last night
Frontbenchers have also tried to limit the damage by expressing their own regret over the party’s handling of anti-Semitism by hard-Left activists.
Speaking as part of a BBC Wales debate, shadow defence secretary Nia Griffith said: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has arranged to meet the Chief Rabbi and I would say absolutely that we need to apologise to our colleagues in my own party who have been very upset and to the whole of the Jewish community as a whole, that we have not been as effective as we should have been in dealing with this problem.’
She added: ‘It is a shame on us, it really is, and it is something that I am very, very ashamed of, and something we must absolutely put right.’
Justice Secretary Richard Burgon, a Corbyn ultra-loyalist, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the party was sorry.
During a catastrophic half-hour grilling last night, the Labour leader:
- Admitted his party could not pay for its £58billion plan to compensate so-called ‘Waspi’ women who lost part of their pension – and said the party would have to borrow the cash;
- Conceded low earners could face higher taxes under Labour, despite his previous pledge to limit rises to the rich;
- Repeatedly refused to say whether he would authorise the killing of the Islamic State terror group leader if UK special forces found him;
- Could not say who would lead the campaign for his Brexit deal in a second referendum in which he has pledged to remain neutral;
- Acknowledged that Labour would keep free movement in all but name;
- Did not know that the top 5 per cent of earners, who he has targeted for tax rises, already pay 50 per cent of all income tax.
In an unprecedented intervention yesterday, Rabbi Mirvis publicly suggested Mr Corbyn was ‘unfit for office’ because of his failure to deal with the anti-Semitism crisis that has ‘poisoned’ Labour since he became leader in 2015.
He dismissed Labour’s claims to be doing everything it could on the issue as ‘mendacious fiction’.
Britain’s most senior Jewish leader was backed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, who said it should ‘alert us to the deep sense of insecurity and fear felt by many British Jews’.
Labour MP Wes Streeting, welcomed the archbishop’s comments, saying: ‘This is how a real leader responds to the unprecedented statement by the Chief Rabbi. I am proud of my church and ashamed of my party.’
Former Labour cabinet minister Lord Falconer, who was due to lead an inquiry into anti-Semitism in the party for Mr Corbyn before the Equality and Human Rights Commission announced its own probe, said Labour deserved the criticism.
The Hindu Council also backed Rabbi Mirvis – and said that anti-Hindu prejudice had festered under Labour.
Anil Bhanot, the Hindu Council’s director for interfaith relations, said: ‘It is a sad state of affairs that a major political party in our country which used to be a progressive socialist voice has veered towards what is almost a fascist ideology.’
Mr Corbyn described anti-Semitism as ‘an evil within our society’, adding: ‘There is no place whatsoever for anti-Semitism in any shape or form or in any place whatsoever in modern Britain.’
Speaking as part of a BBC Wales debate, shadow defence secretary Nia Griffith said the party should ‘absolutely’ apologise to the Jewish community
Ephraim Mirvis (pictured) said the vast majority of British Jews were ‘gripped by anxiety’ at the idea of Jeremy Corbyn in No 10
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, waded into the row today by saying the rabbi’s intervention should ‘alert us to the deep sense of insecurity and fear felt by many British Jews’
But, during a fractious interview, in which he appeared to be close to losing his temper, Mr Corbyn suggested the Chief Rabbi had got his facts wrong.
Asked about the rabbi’s comments, he said: ‘I’m looking forward to having a discussion with him because I want to hear why he would say such a thing.’
Mr Corbyn also denied that the blight increased after he took over the party.
The Labour leader was challenged over Rabbi Mirvis’s allegation that his party’s claims of action were false.
Insiders say at least 130 cases are still outstanding and the independent group Mainstream last night produced a dossier claiming ten Labour candidates have made anti-Semitic comments. But Mr Corbyn rejected the rabbi’s comments, saying: ‘No, he’s not right. Because he would have to produce the evidence to say that’s mendacious.’
Mr Neil offered the Labour leader four chances to apologise, all of which he rejected.
Mr Corbyn initially declined to say whether it was anti-Semitic to suggest ‘Rothschild’s Zionists run Israel and world governments’, as one Labour activist had claimed. After several attempts, Mr Corbyn eventually conceded that it was.
Mr Corbyn was also challenged over why three senior Labour figures who have faced accusations of anti-Semitism joined him on the stage for the launch of Labour’s ‘Race and Faith manifesto’ yesterday.
Asked directly about the case of Apsana Begum, Labour’s candidate in Poplar and Limehouse, who shared a Facebook post suggesting some of Saudi Arabia’s actions were ‘inspired by their Zionist masters’, Mr Corbyn said: ‘It’s not the language they should use, not the language I would use.’
Today Mr Burgon said ‘of course we’re sorry for the hurt caused’ as he was pressed over the issue.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘Jeremy has apologised on a number of occasions and said that he’s sorry for the very real hurt felt by people in the Jewish community.
‘So, on a number of occasions last summer for example, he has made those statements and it’s right that he did.’
JEREMY CORBYN’S FOUR REFUSALS TO APOLOGISE OVER ANTI-SEMITISM IN THE LABOUR PARTY
Andrew Neil: Many Jews, 80 per cent of Jews, think that you’re anti-Semitic. That’s quite a lot of British Jews. I mean, wouldn’t you like to take this opportunity tonight to apologise to the British Jewish community for what’s happened?
Jeremy Corbyn: What I’ll say is this. I am determined that our society will be safe for people of all faiths. I don’t want anyone to be feeling insecure in our society – and our government will protect every community…
AN: So no apology?
JC: …against the abuse they receive, on the streets, on the trains or in any…
AN: So no apology for how you’ve handled this?
JC: …or any other form of life.
AN: Try one more time. No apology?
JC: No, hang on a minute Andrew, can I explain what we’re trying to do?
AN: You have and you’ve been given plenty of time to do that. I asked you if you wanted to apologise and you haven’t.
JC: Andrew, I don’t want anyone to go through what anyone has gone through…
AN: And you’ve said that several times. I understand that, Mr Corbyn, I was asking you about an apology. Let’s move on to Brexit…
JC: Well hang on, can I just make it clear. Racism in our society is a total poison.
AN: You’ve said that several times. So you know we get that. I’m not arguing about that.
JC: Be it Islamophobia, anti-Semitism or…
AN: And you’ve said that too. Let’s move on to Brexit.
JC: …any other form of racism. And I want to work with every community to make sure it’s eliminated. That is what my whole life has been about.
AN: You made that clear and people will make up their own minds. Let’s move on to Brexit.