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Why is Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party being accused of anti-Semitism?

Over the past three years, hundreds of complaints have been filed against party members for offensive, anti-Semitic comments.

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New Delhi: UK’s Labour Party is grappling with allegations of anti-Semitism, just a few weeks before the country is set to go to polls.

Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, UK’s chief rabbi, wrote a column in The Times Monday alleging that anti-Semitism “sanctioned from the very top – has taken root” in the Labour party. He claimed that the supporters of Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the Labour party, had “hounded parliamentarians, members and even staff out of the party for challenging anti-Jewish racism.” Mirvis added that there are 120 outstanding cases of anti-Semitism against the Labour party members.

Corbyn was asked four times, during an interview with the BBC Tuesday, if he wished to apologise to the country’s Jewish community. He refused to do so and instead said — “What I’ll say is this, I am determined that our society is safe for people of all faiths.”

What is the anti-Semitism problem in UK’s Labour party?

Over the past three years, there have been serious allegations of anti-Semitism against the Labour party. Hundreds of complaints have been registered with the central party regarding offensive comments made by some of its members.

“Many of the allegations against Labour members involve sharing social media posts that contain anti-Semitic tropes, such as suggesting Jews are wealthy or control the government or media,” reported The Guardian.

“Labour’s troubled complaints unit was the subject of a BBC Panorama documentary in July, in which former staff members said they were driven to despair by the process and alleging interference by the leader’s office, which was strongly denied,” it added.

Dealing with the complaints 

Critics allege that the Labour party leadership failed to deal with these complaints. However, some action has been taken over the past year. For instance, in the first half of 2019, the party received 635 complaints of anti-Semitism, which eventually resulted in the expulsion of 8 party members.

Some important Labour party leaders such as Gideon Bull and Kate Ramsden were forced to step down from their respective constituencies. Bull had used the word “Shylock” — a pejorative word for Jewish merchants — in front of a Jewish councillor. Ramsden had compared Israel to an “abused child who becomes an abusive adult”.

Meanwhile, other members facing similar complaints, such as Apsana Begum, continue to be full members of the party.

Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the Labour party, also has a history of voicing anti-Semitic statements.

“Corbyn has said he regrets calling members of Hamas and Hezbollah ‘friends’ at a meeting in parliament in 2009. Last year, he accepted he had made a mistake by supporting a graffiti artist after his work, featuring several known anti-Semitic tropes, was removed from a wall in east London after complaints,” noted Guardian.

Party is divided on the matter

Prominent Labour party leaders have differing takes on these allegations.

For instance, Emily Thornberry, the shadow foreign secretary accepted that her party “took too long” to deal with the issue. However, she added that chief rabbi was wrong to claim that anti-Semitism has taken root in the Labour party.

Meanwhile, according to Guardian, “Charlie Falconer, the former shadow justice secretary, said it was a ‘failure of leadership’ that cases had not been investigated properly and argued Labour ‘deserved an attack that strong’”.

Another Labour party member, Jess Phillips, who is up for re-election from Birmingham said that the ideal response to the rabbi’s allegations is, “I’m sorry and I’ll do whatever I possibly can to win back your community’s trust.”

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