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  1. Election 2019
26 November 2019

Emily Thornberry: “I admire the Chief Rabbi. But he’s wrong”

The shadow foreign secretary tells the New Statesman that Labour has “let people down” over anti-Semitism, but added “I just don’t agree that [Jeremy Corbyn] is anti-Semitic”.

By Ailbhe Rea

Emily Thornberry has said that the Chief Rabbi is “wrong” after he this morning made an unprecedented intervention to condemn Labour’s response to allegations of anti-Semitism and urged people to “vote with their conscience” in the general election. 

In the Times, Ephraim Mirvis said “a new poison – sanctioned from the very top – has taken root” in the party.

Responding to the Chief Rabbi’s comments, the shadow foreign secretary told the New Statesman: “I know the Chief Rabbi, I’ve met him many times. And I admire and respect him. But he’s wrong.”

“But I don’t think in these circumstances you should go for the messenger. You need to think carefully about the message. And there’s no doubt that a lot of Jewish people are very angry about our seeming inability to deal with anti-Semitism in our midst. And everybody now accepts that we took too long to deal with it. That we weren’t strong enough about it. That is now accepted. The difficulty is that once you lose confidence or trust, it takes quite a long time to get it back.

“But I don’t think that Jeremy Corbyn… I know Jeremy Corbyn very well. I don’t agree that he is anti-Semitic. I just don’t agree with it. But do I think that we have not dealt with this matter well enough? Of course.” 

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In an interview forthcoming in the 5 December issue of the New Statesman, Thornberry was then asked what her message would be for non-Jewish voters for whom the Chief Rabbi’s intervention had sown a seed of doubt, for those examining their own consciences, or worrying that a vote for Labour would mean being complacent about a form of racism they don’t experience. 

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“There is anti-Semitism, there is racism in our society, and in all the political parties. But Labour should be better than that. We rightly we set our ourselves a much higher bar. And I think that we have let people down.

“But does that stamp out everything in relation to the Labour Party, what it is? Does that mean people want a Conservative government instead? Because that’s kind of the choice. We’re not perfect. I have never said that we were perfect. I have been as frustrated as anybody. With Jewish people in my family, I have found this – you know my mother-in-law was Jewish – I have really felt this. I will do everything I can to make sure that this is dealt with.”