‘Let’s give Corbyn benefit of the doubt’

Some communal leaders believe it is time to re-set relations with the Labour leader


The outcome of the general election could open the door to a rapprochement between Jeremy Corbyn and the Jewish community, it has been claimed.

Leading Jewish figures in Westminster believe that the Labour leader’s unexpected successes in the campaign, which have cemented his control over the party, mean a new approach to dealing with him is needed.

One leader said now was the time to give Mr Corbyn “the benefit of the doubt” after almost two years of bitter disagreements over his failure to deal with Labour’s antisemitism crisis.

However, there was also a feeling that it is “business as usual” for the community, with Theresa May remaining as Prime Minister and senior ministers such as Boris Johnson and Amber Rudd continuing as Foreign and Home Secretary respectively.

The fact four north London constituencies — Hendon, Finchley and Golders Green, Chipping Barnet and Harrow East — bucked the trend of Labour gains and were held by the Conservatives, might serve as a reality check for Mr Corbyn, some argued.

One Jewish source in Westminster described the results in those constituencies as a “Jewish firewall” which had been the difference between the Tories remaining in government and Mr Corbyn becoming prime minister.

“There are four seats which denied Labour because of how they have treated the community. That must give them pause for thought,” the figure said.

Mr Corbyn might “get a taste for victory” and promote “sensible centrists and credible friends of the community”, making it easier for Jewish groups to work with the party, one source said, adding: “It may be wishful thinking, but that’s the smart thing for him to do.”

Simon Johnson, Jewish Leadership Council chief executive, predicted that re-elected Labour MPs would pressure the party leadership more effectively after returning to Parliament with increased majorities and with the threat of re-selection as candidates removed.

“It’s a very good sign that a lot of the people who are friends of the community and Israel retained their seats. They will continue to extend their influence in a way maybe they couldn’t before,” he said.

He added: “I’m realistic. The situation with the opposition is not necessarily as bad as everybody is thinking. We said very clearly we would judge the party by its actions, not words. We are in the same position.”

Sadiq Khan, Labour’s Mayor of London, told the JC that despite positive results across the capital, his party “can’t run away from the fact that there is a disintegration of relationships between the Labour Party and the Jewish community and it’s not acceptable”.

He said Labour must do “much, much more. Over the last year I have seen the fantastic contribution the Jewish community makes economically, socially and culturally. That’s not returned by the party.”

Mr Khan said he would use his influence to make sure Jews felt their concerns were being taken seriously.

Joan Ryan MP, Labour Friends of Israel chair, who was re-elected last week, called on Mr Corbyn to reconsider his links to groups such as the Palestine Solidarity Campaign.

Writing for the JC, she said he could yet be an “honest broker” in the Middle East peace process as prime minister.

“To do so, he must be seen as a friend of both sides, sensitive to and aware of the concerns and aspirations of each. He now needs to work urgently to ensure his past actions and associations do not remain a barrier to him being seen as such,” she wrote.

There remains, however, considerable scepticism about Mr Corbyn’s intentions in many quarters. One leading Jewish Labour figure said repairing relations with the community was not on the leader’s “radar or wish list at the moment”.

Another Jewish Westminster source said the election outcome was “the worst of situations.

“The communal groups are utterly hamstrung. It’s a really precarious position. Corbyn understands what they think of him. They will have to do what they did before and either ignore him or work around him.”

One senior pro-Israel Labour figure said it was “naïve” to think Mr Corbyn would alter his stance.

“The community has to decide what its strategy is,” the source said. “I feel pretty uncomfortable now — I told people Corbyn absolutely would not win and they could vote Labour. We managed to get people who hate Corbyn to vote for Corbyn’s Labour Party. There were a lot of soft voters out there.

“Now is the time to say to him, ‘if you want to be prime minister these are the issues you need to resolve’. Our door is open. The MPs I have been speaking to will be happier to bang on his door now — about antisemitism or Israel. The moderates are strengthened as well as the Corbynistas. Now is not the time for the Jewish community to go weak.”

Mr Corbyn’s office did not respond to requests for a comment.



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