Corbyn shrugs his way to point of no return

Members of the Board of Deputies (left to right) Gillian Merron, former president  Jonathan Arkush, alongside Jonathan Goldstein, and Simon Johnson of the JLC, speak to the media on College Green following a meeting with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn in 2018.  (Photo credit: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire via Jewish News)
Members of the Board of Deputies (left to right) Gillian Merron, former president Jonathan Arkush, alongside Jonathan Goldstein, and Simon Johnson of the JLC, speak to the media on College Green following a meeting with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn in 2018. (Photo credit: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire via Jewish News)

Last week a photograph was posted on social media. It showed the scene at a meeting between the Speaker of the US House of Representatives, Rep. Nancy Pelosi and Jeremy Corbyn.

Ms Pelosi spoke animatedly. Mr Corbyn, on the other hand, was slumped in his chair, arms folded in a classic defensive posture, with a look on his face of weary resignation and defiance.

I looked at that picture and thought: “Where have we seen that before”? Then I remembered. That was the posture Corbyn adopted with us in the Jewish community’s meeting with him – exactly one year ago this week.

He was defensive, slumping back in his chair, shrugging his shoulders and folding his arms whenever the conversation turned to something he did not want to hear. In fact, the phrase “Corbyn Shrugged”, used as a headline for a column we wrote earlier, has been widely adopted in political commentary. Comedian Matt Forde had a whole routine about it in his Edinburgh Festival show.

Nancy Pelosi meeting Jeremy Corbyn and senior Labour politicians (Jewish News)

As meetings go, our meeting with Jeremy Corbyn was among our least successful. We had asked for six straightforward, concrete actions to be taken by the Labour Party leader to rebuild trust among the Jewish community that the party was prepared to stand up to anti-Jewish racism.

Of the six requests, Corbyn, accompanied by Seumas Milne, Jennie Formby and Andrew Gwynne, agreed to not a single one.

That unsuccessful meeting, at which Corbyn failed to live up to his promise of being a militant opponent of antisemitism, has been the start of a year of frustration for the Jewish community.

There was a summer of near-constant revelations about Corbyn, including the famous “wreath-laying” saga. There was the drawn out battle within the National Executive Committee to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism, something Corbyn even at the last moment tried to water down to protect the right of his supporters to call Israel a “racist endeavour”.

In recent weeks, there have been revelations in The Sunday Times of the leader’s office intervening in disciplinary cases.

The Labour Party is now facing the possibility of an investigation by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission.

 Corbyn appears not to have been willing to confront the fact that, of the nine MPs who have resigned the whip and left the Party, four cited antisemitism as their reason to do so.

The Jewish community is immensely frustrated that, despite Corbyn’s promise to fight against “all sorts of racism”, antisemitism within Labour appears to have got worse. Mr Corbyn has not taken the action necessary to stamp it out.

That prompted the Jewish Leadership Council to mark the anniversary of the meeting by issuing our new short film, Dear Jeremy Corbyn.

This film illustrates how, despite his promises, the community remains frustrated at how the situation has become worse. It questions how much Corbyn really cares about the issue and wonders if he is actually indifferent to the fact there is anti-Jewish racism within the party.

The film questions whether Corbyn has responded fast enough, been firm enough, transparent enough, empathetic enough and active enough to address the anti-Jewish racism within the party.

This film reminds the community that, one year ago, Corbyn refused to agree to any of the actions we had proposed. He seems not to want to take the necessary action to rebuild trust with the wider community.

It seems that we are close to the point of no return. Corbyn needs to take the firm and visible action to counter the widely-held perception that the party, which he leads, is now institutionally racist towards Jews.

About the Author
Simon Johnson is Chief Executive of the Jewish Leadership Council.
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