Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has failed to combat anti-Jewish discrimination, according to a senior figure in the party.
The chairman of the Jewish Labour movement, Jeremy Newmark, would not say whether Labour’s track record on dealing with anti-Semitism would cost the party a significant number of votes at the general election. But he does see it as a cause for concern.
“Jeremy Corbyn appears to have failed to understand the nature of contemporary anti-Semitism in the same way that it’s understood by most of its target group,” he said.
Labour MP Wes Streeting – a frequent critic of Mr Corbyn’s leadership – has also criticised the party’s record on the issue.
“I don’t think many Jewish voters in my constituency have been very impressed with the way the Labour party as a whole have responded,” said Mr Streeting.
Mr Corbyn has previously said the party does not tolerate anti-Semitism in any way.
The Labour leader’s record on handling anti-Semitic behaviour has the potential to cause problems for the party at the ballot box. While fewer than 0.5%, or 263,000, of Britons described themselves as Jewish at the last census, a majority of them live in just 10 parliamentary constituencies, including some of the most tightly contested in the country.
Since Mr Corbyn was elected leader of the Labour Party, there have been allegations that he has failed to do all he can to tackle anti-Semitism.
Having repeatedly refused to apologise for calling the Islamist Lebanese militia, Hezbollah “friends”, he has also had to deal with a string of anti-Semitic comments from Labour councillors, an MP, and party stalwart Ken Livingstone.
In April, Mr Livingstone was suspended from the party for standing by his claim that Hitler supported Zionism in the 1930s. The party decided to conduct a report into its handling of the issue.
At the launch of Labour’s race and faith manifesto this week, Mr Corbyn reaffirmed the party’s commitment to “build a society free from all forms of racism, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.
“We will stand up to and take effective action against hate crime, notably, but not only in Muslim, Jewish and non-Abrahamic faith communities,” he said.
In June last year, an inquiry led by Shami Chakrabarti – now a Labour peer – a former director of human rights group Liberty – concluded that the party was not overrun by anti-Semitism or other forms of racism but there was an “occasionally toxic atmosphere”.
As with any community, a range of issues will influence Jewish voters’ decisions, said Simon Johnson, chief executive of the Jewish Leadership Council.
But he says “this is probably the first election at which this has been an issue” to such a big extent.
“People within the Labour party leadership are in no doubt about the concerns of the Jewish community,” he said.
One early indication is a Jewish Chronicle opinion poll published this week, which suggested just 13% of British Jews plan to vote for Labour, compared with 77% backing the Tories. The poll by Survation, which polled a sample of 515 British Jews, also suggested Labour would do better with Jewish voters if Jeremy Corbyn was not the leader.
One of the most marginal seats in the country is the leafy north-east London suburb of Ilford North, home to a Jewish community of about 6,600.
Two years ago, Labour’s Wes Streeting won it by just 589 votes. He says he is taking no votes for granted. He is relying on his track record to impress voters, including the ones who, he says, have brought up Labour’s anti-Semitism record on the doorstep.
He says they have not been impressed by the party’s reaction as a whole, “but they have seen that I have been unflinching in my condemnation of anti-Semitism within the party.”
He also points to his record of trying to tackle the issue within wider society, which dates back at least as far as his time as NUS president more than a decade ago.
The seat won’t be decided on a single issue. On its border sits the large, modern King George hospital whose A&E is threatened with closure.
The NHS, social care and schools will be on voters’ minds too.
However, another reason Labour’s record on anti-Semitism could be an important issue is that UKIP is not running, in the hope of boosting Conservative candidate Lee Scott’s chances.
Born locally, Mr Scott held the Ilford North seat from 2005 until 2015. He said “a number of people” he has met during the campaign have cited Labour’s “reluctance to tackle” anti-Semitism as a reason “they cannot vote Labour any longer”.
On the other side of the capital is the Hampstead and Kilburn constituency. Crucially for Labour it’s also home to the sixth biggest Jewish population in the country – 8,482 according to the 2011 census. However, it’s almost certainly grown since then as younger Jews move to congregate around the wider area’s Jewish schools, kosher restaurants and other amenities.
Labour’s Tulip Siddiq, who has worked hard to build ties with the Jewish community, is defending a majority of just 1,138. In what could be interpreted as a sign that the Conservatives also see the importance of that relationship their candidate, Claire-Louise Leyland, was selected in a meeting at a local synagogue.
According to Marcus Dysch, political editor of the Jewish Chronicle, it’s one of a handful of seats around the country, including Bury South, where this issue has made Labour vulnerable.
“Anti-Semitism has become the number one topic of political discussion amongst the Jewish community nationwide,” says Mr Dysch. “It is the issue people are talking about above and beyond Brexit, the economy or healthcare.”
Other candidates standing in Ilford North are Richard Clare, Liberal Democrat; and Doris Osen, Independent. In Hampstead and Kilburn: Kirsty Allan, Liberal Democrat; Hugh Easterbrook, Independent; John Mansook, Green Party; and Rainbow George Weiss, Independent.
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