Jeremy Corbyn has repeatedly refused to apologise to Jewish people in Britain after the chief rabbi criticised his handling of antisemitism cases.
He faced a string of questions following Ephraim Mirvis‘s comments, calling the Labour leader’s claims to be tackling antisemitism a “mendacious fiction” and alleging “a new poison – sanctioned from the very top – has taken root”.
Urging people to “vote with their conscience” at the general election on 12 December, Mr Mirvis said: “Be in no doubt – the very soul of our nation is at stake.”
In an interview with Andrew Neil for the BBC, Mr Corbyn was confronted with several of the statements made by Labour Party members, including one who suggested the number killed in the Holocaust was wrong, and asked if they were antisemitic.
He dodged the opportunity four times to apologise to the British Jewish community for the party’s handling of the issue – and instead said a Labour government would protect all communities from the abuse they receive.
Confronted about Mr Mirvis’s comments in the interview, the Labour leader said: “No, he’s not right. Because he would have to produce the evidence to say that’s mendacious.”
He also denied that the problem had got worse while he had been party leader.
Even before the programme aired an activist put a message on a Momentum-backed WhatsApp group describing the interview as “truly horrific. Like, awful”.
They predicted Mr Corbyn’s refusal to apologise is “going to be brutal” and asked people to “flood hashtags relating to the programme” with pro-Labour messages.
Earlier, Mr Corbyn urged the UK’s chief rabbi to hold talks with him, having declared antisemitism “will not be tolerated in any form whatsoever” under a Labour government.
Speaking at the launch of Labour’s race and faith manifesto earlier on Tuesday, Mr Corbyn said: “I just want to make this very clear – antisemitism in any form is vile and wrong.
“It is an evil within our society, it is an evil that grew in Europe in the 1920s and onwards and ultimately led to the Holocaust.
“There is no place whatsoever for antisemitism in any shape or form or in any place whatsoever in modern Britain, and under a Labour government it will not be tolerated in any form whatsoever.”
He also said Labour has a “rapid and effective system” of dealing with allegations of antisemitism, adding: “That process is constantly under review to make sure it is rapid and it is effective and, also, that there is an education programme within our party.”
Should he win power next month, Mr Corbyn described how “our door will be open to all faith leaders to come and talk to us and make representations on behalf of their communities”.
Mr Corbyn described Labour as a “party of equality and human rights”, highlighting how the party passed the 1998 Human Rights Act and established the Equality and Human Rights Commission when previously in government.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission is currently investigating allegations of antisemitism in Labour.
Shadow defence secretary Nia Griffith said ahead of the interview the party should apologise to Jewish Labour members and the entire Jewish community, adding she is “very, very ashamed” of the antisemitism in the party.
Shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon told Sky News he agreed with Ms Griffith’s comments and apologised “for the hurt and pain that’s been caused” – but insisted Mr Corbyn has apologised before as he defended the Labour leader’s lack of apology during the Andrew Neil interview.
Labour’s race and faith manifesto includes a vow to enhance the powers and functions of the commission to make it “truly independent”.
At his own election campaign event in Scotland, Prime Minister Boris Johnson described the chief rabbi’s comments as a “very serious business”.
“I’ve never heard anything like it and clearly it is a failure of leadership on the part of the Labour leader that he has not been able to stamp out this virus in the Labour Party,” he said.
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