Jeremy Corbyn’s attempt to build bridges with Jewish community leaders have received another setback after they accused him of failing to take action to tackle anti-Semitism in the Labour Party.
After more than two hours of talks with the Labour leader at Westminster, the Board of Deputies and the Jewish Leadership Council (JLC) said their meeting was a “disappointing missed opportunity” to address the issue.
In a joint statement, the board’s president, Jonathan Arkush, and JLC chair Jonathan Goldstein said Mr Corbyn had failed to adopt any of the measures they had proposed following last month’s demonstration outside Parliament against anti-Semitism in Labour.
“Our sole objective from this meeting was to build trust with Mr Corbyn, but this will not be possible until and unless he and the party turn their many strong words against anti-Semitism into equally strong actions in order to bring about a deep cultural change in his supporters’ attitude to Jews,” they said.
In response, Mr Corbyn said he was “absolutely committed” to rooting out anti-Semitism in the party and had instructed new general secretary Jennie Formby to overhaul its disciplinary procedures to ensure complaints were dealt with “swiftly and fairly”.
“We will lay out the further steps we are taking in the coming weeks. We will continue to engage and work with Jewish community organisations to deal with this issue. Our party will not fail our Jewish brothers and sisters,” he said.
The meeting leaves relations between Labour and the mainstream Jewish organisations at a low ebb, amid claims that some of the most vitriolic anti-Semitic abuse has come from hard left supporters of Mr Corbyn.
Ahead of the meeting, Mr Corbyn used an article for London’s Evening Standard to again apologise for the party’s failure to “fully to get to grips with the problem”.
“My party and I are sorry for the hurt and distress caused,” he said.
However, Mr Arkush and Mr Goldstein said that after “two years of inactivity” by the Labour leadership, such statements were no longer enough.
They said the proposals they had put forward – which included a fixed timetable for dealing with outstanding case of anti-Semitism, , expediting long-standing case like that of Ken Livingstone, and the “transparent oversight” of the party’s disciplinary process – was the “minimum level of action” they expected.
“Words in letters and newspaper articles will never be enough. We welcome the fact that Mr Corbyn’s words have changed but it is action by which the Jewish community will judge him and the Labour Party,” they said.
“Thousands of British Jews did not demonstrate outside Parliament just for a few lawyers and another newspaper article; they demanded action and so do we.
“We will hold the Labour Party to account for any future failures and continue to represent the interests of British Jews with clarity and resolve. We also commit to do our utmost to work with all those within Labour who want to help make it a safe and equal space for all of its members.”
Despite the harsh criticism, Mr Corbyn insisted that it had been a “positive and constructive” meeting and he rejected complaints by some on the left that accusations of ant-Semitism were simply “smears” to undermine his leadership.
“I am absolutely committed to rooting out anti-Semitism from our party and our society,” he said.
“When members of Jewish communities express genuine anxieties, we must recognise them as we would those of any other community.
“Their concerns are not ‘smears’. Jews belong in the Labour Party and we are utterly committed to making it a safe and welcoming place for them.”