Schism grows between communal groups over how to respond to Labour antisemitism

Board and Senior rabbi issue conciliatory statements towards Labour but others double down and attack party's inaction


A growing schism between leading communal organisations is emerging over how to respond to Labour’s long-running antisemitism crisis.

In a clear signal of a willingness to improve relations with Jeremy Corbyn’s party, both the Board of Deputies and the Senior Rabbi of Liberal Judaism have made conciliatory statements over the past week.

At last Sunday’s Board plenary meeting President Marie van der Zyl told Deputies that the organisation “would lose all our power” if they “were to stop engaging with Labour.”

She added: “Suspending relations with the party may create headlines but it would get us nowhere and leave us no wriggle room.
“I have always said that engagement does not mean concessions.”

Her remarks seemed a far cry from earlier claims, made during an Israeli TV interview in August, that Mr Corbyn had “declared war on the Jews.”

A source told the JC that Philip Rosenberg, the Board’s director of public affairs, was pushing for the resumption of talks with the Labour leader’s office and that Labour General Secretary Jennie Formby had sought to undermine claims that communal organisations were refusing to resume talks with the party until there was action on antisemitism by telling a meeting of Jewish Labour activists that a board official — thought to be Mr Rosenberg — had been in regular correspondence with her.

Meanwhile, Rabbi Danny Rich said this week that the Jewish community had “an obligation to work very closely” with Labour and said he feared the community’s leaders could be “in danger of being accused of only desiring regime change” in the party.

Rabbi Rich, who is a Labour councillor and member of the Jewish Labour Movement, said it was “not helpful” that there was “no discussion” between the community and Labour.

But in a sign of growing anger at attempts to placate the Labour leadership, the Jewish Leadership Council issued a statement on Wednesday condemning the Liberal chief executive’s comments, saying: “Holding the Jewish community accountable for the current impasse is a perverse form of victim blaming.”

The JLC added: “It is important to remember that this isn’t a fight the community wants to have, it is one we have been forced into.

“We have engaged with the Labour leadership in good faith and set out a series of reasonable steps for them to take to reduce levels of antisemitism in the party.

“That was six months ago – not only have they failed to deliver on a single one of those steps, they have bunkered down. All the evidence points to the fact that the Labour leadership are either incapable or unwilling to change.” 

In a further scathing statement, former Board President Jonathan Arkush said: “I can’t follow Rabbi Danny Rich.

"More than six months ago the Board and the JLC set out simple basic steps that Labour needed to take to restore the community’s trust. Labour signally failed to take them, indeed  matters have got worse.”

Another senior communal source was highly critical of Mrs van der Zyl’s latest remarks, telling the JC: “In what world do you use the words

'Jewish community' and 'power' in the same sentence?

“The community has spent months highlighting antisemitic tropes and then the President of the Board of Deputies herself says Jews have power which they learn how to use.

“I don’t know what’s worse — that this was a spur of the moment comment or that it was actually planned?

“The Board is more worried about their positioning than getting the right answer.”

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