Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn refuses to apologise to Jewish community in wake of Chief Rabbi's anti-Semitism warning

  • Video report by ITV News Political Correspondent Libby Wiener

Jeremy Corbyn has refused to apologise to the Jewish community after the Chief Rabbi warned his failure to tackle anti-Semitism made him unfit to be prime minister.

The Labour leader said he does not tolerate anti-Semitism "in any form whatsoever" and called it "vile and wrong" - but he declined four times to apologise to the Jewish community in a BBC interview.

Mr Corbyn was criticised by the Chief Rabbi on Monday, who claimed the party was "incompatible" with British values and the "soul of the nation" was at stake at the general election.

He added the overwhelming majority of Britain's Jews were "gripped with anxiety" ahead of the General Election on December 12.

Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis was highly critical of Mr Corbyn in the Times. Credit: PA

It follows a refusal by Chancellor Sajid Javid to criticise the Prime Minister for his use of language to describe Muslim women, after the Muslim Council of Britain accused the Conservatives of "denial, dismissal and deceit" with regards to Islamophobia in the party.

Mr Javid struggled to explain Boris Johnson's use of words such as "letterboxes" and "bank robbers" to describe Muslim women wearing a veil, which he wrote in a column for The Telegraph newspaper last year.

During the BBC's The Andrew Neil Interviews on Tuesday evening, Mr Corbyn accused Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis of being wrong about part of his criticism of Labour's handling of anti-Semitism.

He said: "I'm looking forward to having a discussion with him because I want to hear why he would say such a thing."

The Labour leader was challenged over Rabbi Mirvis's allegation that Labour's claims it is doing everything to tackle anti-Jewish racism was a "mendacious fiction".

"No, he's not right. Because he would have to produce the evidence to say that's mendacious," Mr Corbyn replied.

He insisted he has "developed a much stronger process" and had sanctioned and removed members who have been anti-Semitic.

The Chief Rabbi's attack came on the same day Labour launched its race and faith manifesto. Credit: PA

Mr Corbyn also denied that the blight increased after he took over the party, saying: "It didn't rise after I became leader.

"Anti-Semitism is there in society, there are a very, very small number of people in the Labour Party that have been sanctioned as a result about their anti-Semitic behaviour."

But he repeatedly refused to apologise when asked by Mr Neil.

"We will not allow anti-Semitism in any form in our society because it is poisonous and divisive, just as much as Islamophobia or far-right racism is," Mr Corbyn said.

Mr Corbyn insisted he had "strengthened the processes" since a written warning was given to a member who questioned the murder toll of the Holocaust.

Meanwhile Chair of the pro-Corbyn Momentum group Jon Lansman, who is also a member of Labour's National Executive Committee, said some Jewish organisations have "refused to engage" with the party.

Speaking to Channel 4 News, Mr Lansman said: "A number of organisations in the Jewish community have unfortunately refused to engage with the leader himself."

He added: "Look, I acknowledge the deep concern of the Jewish community about this but I think we are doing our best to deal with it, I really do."

Sajid Javid refused to criticise the Prime Minister's use of language about Muslim women. Credit: PA

Earlier, in an exchange with reporters in Bolton, Mr Javid refused to criticise the Prime Minister's use of language about Muslim women.

He said Mr Johnson had "explained why he's used that language", adding the article "was to defend the rights of women, whether Muslim women and others, to wear what they like, so he's explained that and I think he's given a perfectly valid explanation".

Mr Javid added: "Whenever this issue has come about (for) the Conservative Party, no-one has ever credibly suggested that it's an issue with the leadership of the party, whether that's the leader of the party of the day or the chancellor or other senior figures, no-one's suggested that."

Later, Mr Johnson dismissed criticism by the Muslim Council of Britain of the Conservative Party's handling of Islamophobia within its ranks.

  • ITV News Political Editor Robert Peston on the accusations of racism in both Labour and Conservative Parties

On a visit to the International Aviation Academy in Norwich on Tuesday, the Prime Minister told reporters that he did not agree with the claim that his party had approached Islamophobia with "denial, dismissal and deceit".

He added: "What we do in the Tory Party is when anybody is guilty of any kind of prejudice or discrimination against another group, then they're out first bounce," he said.

Meanwhile he hit out at Mr Corbyn, saying the Labour leader had shown a "chronic failure of leadership" over the issue of anti-Semitism and described the Chief Rabbi's statement as "pretty extraordinary".

Campaigning on Tuesday by the two main parties was overshadowed by the accusations of failures to tackle racism.

Mr Corbyn was greeted with shouts of "racist" by demonstrators as he arrived to launch Labour's race and faith manifesto in north London, where he said the party does not tolerate anti-Semitism "in any form whatsoever" but he made no direct mention of the comments by Rabbi Mirvis.

Instead, it was left to Labour peer Lord Dubs - who came to Britain in the 1930s as a child refugee fleeing the Nazis - to say he believed the attack had been "unjustified and unfair".

In his speech, Mr Corbyn described anti-Semitism as "an evil within our society" which had led to the Holocaust.

"There is no place whatsoever for anti-Semitism 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 said.

When asked by journalists about whether he had done enough to stamp out anti-Semitism within his party, Mr Corbyn said: "Since I became leader of the party, the party has adopted processes that didn't exist before.

"There has had a disciplinary process that didn't exist before; where people have committed anti-Semitic acts brought to book, and, if necessary, expelled from the party or suspended, or asked to be educated better about it.

"I've also introduced an education system within the party.

"I want to live in a country where people respect each other's faith.

"I want to live in a country where people feel secure to be Jewish, to Muslim, to be Hindu, to be Christian.

"And I want to lead a government that has an open door to all of the faith leaders.

"So I invite the Chief Rabbi, I invite the Archbishop of Canterbury, I invite all the other faith leaders to come, talk to us about what their concerns are.

"But be absolutely clear of this assurance from me: no community will be at risk because of their identity, their faith, this ethnicity or their language.

"I am proud to represent a diverse community in parliament.

"I've spent my life fighting racism in any form...

"And so, there is no place for it and I ask those that think that things have not been done correctly, to tell me about it, talk to me about it, but above all engage."

In his article, Rabbi Mirvis dismissed Labour's claims to be doing everything it could to deal with anti-Semitism as a "mendacious fiction".

"A new poison - sanctioned from the top - has taken root in the Labour Party," he said.

"How complicit in prejudice would a leader of Her Majesty's opposition have to be to be considered unfit for office?"

However, Jewish Voice For Labour co-chair Jenny Manson dismissed Mr Mirvis' comments, telling ITV News she had "never been happier than now" to be a Jew in the Labour party.

Ms Manson defended Jeremy Corbyn, telling ITV News that the Chief Rabbi did not represent all Jewish people.

"He's writing on behalf of what he's saying to be all Jews telling us that the Labour party is not a safe place to be in.

"It is a completely safe to be in.

"I'm very, very happy as a Jew in the Labour party, always have been, but I've never been happier than now.

"I believe in Jeremy Corbyn as a leader," she said.

Mr Mirvis received the backing of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev Justin Welby, who said the Chief Rabbi's intervention reflected the alarm felt by many in the Jewish community.

"That the Chief Rabbi should be compelled to make such an unprecedented statement at this time ought to alert us to the deep sense of insecurity and fear felt by many British Jews," he said.

"Voicing words that commit to a stand against anti-Semitism requires a corresponding effort in visible action," he said.

The Hindu Council wrote to the Chief Rabbi on Tuesday to express their support for Mr Mirvis and accused the Labour Party of becoming anti-Hindu.

The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) also backed Mr Mirvis but took aim at the Conservatives, claiming the party had allowed Islamophobia to "fester in society and fail to put in place the measures necessary to root out this type of racism".

The MCB added Islamophobia was "acute" within the Conservative Party, and the response from the Tories about allegations of it had been "one of denial, dismissal and deceit".

Shaykh Ibraham Mogra, a Community Imam in Leicester and National Council member of the MCB told ITV News he was"extremely worried and very very disappointed" with the Conservative's response to concerns the council have "repeatedly" raised.

He also accused the Prime Minister of making Islamophobic remarks.

"The way he’s talked about Muslim people – the evidence shows that each time a political leader, or the media broadly [talks about them], encourages in some form anti-Muslim hatred and fans the flames of Islam, attacks on Muslims have shot up.

"It’s with deep sadness we find our own political leaders, including our own prime minister, who chose to use this kind of language that incites hate towards a particular community, in this case the Muslim community."