April 24, 2018 / 8:21 PM / 7 months ago

UK Jewish groups say disappointed by talks with Labour leader Corbyn on anti-Semitism

LONDON (Reuters) - Jewish community leaders in Britain said their talks on Tuesday with opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn on how to end anti-Semitism in his party had been a “disappointing missed opportunity”.

Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of Britain's Labour Party, speaks at the launch of their local election campaign, in London, April 9, 2018. REUTERS/Hannah McKay

Corbyn met with the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Jewish Leadership Council after they organised a protest last month accusing him of failing to tackle anti-Semitism in his party because of a far-left world view hostile to Jews.

Before the meeting, Corbyn acknowledged that anti-Semitism had surfaced within his party and apologised for the pain this had caused.

But the groups said after the meeting that Corbyn failed to agree there should be a fixed timetable to deal with anti-Semitism cases or that no member of parliament should share a platform with somebody expelled or suspended for anti-Semitism.

“Our meeting with Jeremy Corbyn today was a disappointing missed opportunity,” they said in a statement. “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.”

Some opinions polls put Labour almost level with Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservatives, meaning he is a potential next British leader, although the next election is not due until 2022.

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-Semitic comments in the party and among groups he supports.

Corbyn reiterated after Tuesday’s meeting that he was committed to stamping out the problem.

“When members of Jewish communities express genuine anxieties, we must recognise them as we would those of any other community,” he said. 

“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.”

A debate in parliament last week underlined the depth of the criticism directed towards Corbyn over anti-Semitism, where members of his own party described in powerful terms the depths of the abuse they and Jewish friends were experiencing.

A Labour member of parliament said last week that his wife had been threatened with rape and sent a dead bird in the post after he attended the demonstration against anti-Semitism.

After the protest organised by the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Jewish Leadership Council, Corbyn offered to meet both groups’ leaders urgently to discuss their concerns.

Reporting By Andrew MacAskill

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