LONDON, March 26 (Reuters) - British Jewish groups were planning a street protest outside parliament on Monday against opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, accusing him of failing to tackle anti-Semitism in party ranks because of a far-left world view hostile to Jews.
Since unexpectedly becoming Labour leader in 2015 after decades spent on the left-wing fringes of the party, Corbyn has repeatedly faced accusations of turning a blind eye to anti-Semitism in the party and among groups he supports.
“He is repeatedly found alongside people with blatantly anti-Semitic views, but claims never to hear or read them. Again and again, Jeremy Corbyn has sided with anti-Semites rather than Jews,” the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Jewish Leadership Council said in an open letter late on Sunday.
Corbyn said in a statement he recognised anti-Semitism had occurred “in pockets within the Labour Party” and apologised for the pain this had caused. He condemned anti-Semitism and vowed to stamp it out of Labour politics.
The issue flared up again last week after it came to light that in 2012 Corbyn questioned a decision by London local authorities to remove a street mural depicting men in suits with big noses playing Monopoly on the backs of naked people.
Corbyn said on Friday he had spoken out at the time against the removal of public art on grounds of freedom of speech, but regretted not looking more closely at the image, which he now said was “deeply disturbing and anti-Semitic”.
In their open letter, the Jewish groups accused Corbyn of issuing “empty statements” while doing nothing to understand or tackle anti-Semitism. They said he was the figurehead of an anti-Semitic culture based on conspiracy theories and obsessive hatred of Israel.
“We conclude that he cannot seriously contemplate anti-Semitism, because he is so ideologically fixed within a far-left worldview that is instinctively hostile to mainstream Jewish communities,” they said.
Several Labour members of parliament said they would join the protest on Monday, exposing internal divisions within Labour that had been papered over after Corbyn led the party to a stronger-than-expected showing in a general election last June.
Corbyn won the Labour leadership thanks to fervent support from many grassroots members who rejected the centrist approach of predecessors such as former Prime Minister Tony Blair, but many Labour lawmakers have been uncomfortable with his leadership.
The mural issue, like several similar controversies in the past, appeared not to dent Corbyn’s support among dedicated grassroots followers who saw it as the latest attempt by establishment figures to smear and undermine him.
Some of them posted supportive messages on Twitter under the hashtag #PredictTheNextCorbynSmear.
Stephen Pollard, editor of the Jewish Chronicle newspaper, posted in response: “I’ll have a go. It will be an accurate quote of something Corbyn has said.” (Reporting by Estelle Shirbon Editing by Richard Balmforth)