How the Corbyn Board of Deputies meeting collapsed into excuses

Stephen Pollard reveals what went on behind the closed doors of the Labour leader's office

April 24, 2018 21:33

The mood music, to coin a phrase, in advance of tonight’s meeting between Jeremy Corbyn and Jewish community representatives was not good. It could hardly have been, when the meeting only came about because of an unprecedented demonstration last month in Parliament Square.

This afternoon, Mr Corbyn published a decent enough apology in the Evening Standard, in which he went further than ever before in appearing to have some grasp of the issues (even though it contained the odd assertion that anti-Zionism is not antisemitic).

But Mr Corbyn's years of giving support to antisemites mean that his words alone are meaningless. He will be judged only on actions.

Which is why today’s meeting was so important.

Had he offered some substance, it would have dispelled the idea that his behaviour and words over the past few weeks have only been about neutralising a damaging political issue rather than a genuine desire to grapple with a deep-seated problem for the hard left.

Because Mr Corbyn’s own political career is critical to this. He has allied with antisemities in Hamas (describing them as being dedicated to social and political justice); he has given money to a Holocaust denier, Paul Eisen; he has worked for Press TV. The list goes on. 

So the real question about today’s meeting was whether Mr Corbyn would offer real substance – whether he would commit to genuine action and, perhaps even more important, show that he was open to the suggestion that he could himself learn. Whether, to be blunt, he could accept that there is a valid issue as to how he might himself have contributed to the hard left’s issue with antisemitism.

It is clear from the formal statements from the Board of Deputies and Jewish Leadership Council after the meeting that this was not a genuine attempt to tackle antisemitism but rather a meeting designed to solve a political problem – that Labour is now viewed as having an issue with antisemitism.

But formal statements are only so useful. I have now pieced together much of what went on in the lengthy (well over an hour) meeting. And the picture is even more damning.

The meeting opened with Jonathan Arkush, President of the Board of Deputies, raising the community’s key points, to which Mr Corbyn gave a warm response. “He was warm and personable,” according to one account of the meeting.

“But when it came to proposals for concrete action there was absolutely nothing. Nothing. The bottom line is that we got nothing from the meeting. Not a thing.”

Another source said that the opening of the meeting set the tone, with the party’s representatives – Jennie Formby and Seumas Milne - entirely concerned with process.

After Mr Corbyn’s opening remarks, he passed over to Ms Formby, the new Labour Party General Secretary, who gave a “day by day account of the processes she followed and the bits of paper she has signed”.

As one source present at the meeting put it: “They think it’s all about process, that process is all that matters. Process is what they offer and it’s the excuse they give why they can’t do anything”.

Jonathan Goldstein of the JLC told Mr Corbyn that his parents had attended their first ever demonstration last month in Parliament Square. When they were nearby they were jeered by supporters of the Labour leader. “Why won’t you stop these people?”, Mr Goldstein demanded.

“It’s not in my name”, Mr Corbyn replied.

“So why are you not saying that loud and clear, with the passion you have shown over the Windrush scandal?”, Mr Goldstein responded.

Mr Corbyn is said to have shrugged.

When Mr Arkush raised the issue of appointing an independent ombudsman to deal with allegations, the Labour leader said he did not have the authority to take such action.

As a source put it: “Every time you ask him to do something he finds an excuse and relies on process.”

Tellingly, Mark Gardner of the Community Security Trust raised Mr Corbyn’s friendliness towards Hamas and Hezbollah, pointing out that the reason Jewish buildings in the UK have long had to have such severe security measures is that in 1994 Hezbollah had blown up the AMIA centre in Argentina. “You have”, Mr Corbyn was told directly, “done nothing to deal with Muslim antisemitism.”

In response, Mr Corbyn again simply “shrugged it off.”

Finally, the issue of Chris Williamson was raised. The Labour MP is scheduled to appear on a platform with Jackie Walker, currently suspended by the Labour Party. When asked if he would order Mr Williamson not to go ahead, Mr Corbyn said he had no power to do so. “But you can simply tell him that he mustn’t do it”, he was told.

This is the crux of it. Hiding behind procedural excuses gives the game away. If Mr Corbyn was serious about tackling antisemites he would tell Mr Williamson that if he goes ahead with the meeting with Ms Walker then Mr Corbyn will denounce him for it.

But you and I both know he would never, ever do that.

Which says everything.




April 24, 2018 21:33

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