Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, the most senior rabbi in British Orthodox Jewry, has made an unprecedented intervention into party politics in today’s Times, warning that “the very soul of our nation is at stake” and that Jeremy Corbyn’s failure to tackle anti-Semitism within Labour means he is unfit to be prime minister. While he stops short of endorsing any one party or even of using language as explicit as that used by Jonathan Romain, a senior Reform rabbi, who urged his congregants to vote tactically to defeat Labour, the message is explicit enough: don’t vote Labour.
Despite the conspiracies being aired on Twitter, the intervention is unsurprising not because Mirvis congratulated Boris Johnson on his election as Prime Minister earlier this year – just as religious leaders have offered congratulations and promises of prayer upon the election of new prime ministers through history – but because the steady backdrop to this election has been a series of similar interventions by many – though not at all – rabbis, and great anxiety within the community about the outcome of the election.
According to the polls, close to 85 per cent of British Jews believe that Labour has become an anti-Semitic party and that Jeremy Corbyn himself is an anti-Semite. Yes, polls are polls, but we’ve had a pretty clear indication from actual elections that the Jewish community – which in 2010, while Labour was losing handily to the Conservatives nationwide, was evenly split between the two major parties – is turning away from the Labour Party.
Whether Labour wins or loses this election, it will have to reckon with that fact and what has happened to it, particularly as the Equalities and Human Rights Commission’s statutory investigation into the party’s processes is due to complete next year. But the Labour leadership’s response – to once again reiterate that Jeremy Corbyn is a lifelong campaigner against anti-Semitism and all other forms of racism – highlights the depth of the problem.
Corbyn’s career-spanning credentials aside, the fact remains that under his leadership the British Jewish community has become alienated from Labour and the party has come under investigation from the EHRC. Whether his intentions are good is a secondary issue to the fact that, whatever is in his heart, he and his party have failed on the issue. Reconciliation, on this and any other issue, can only begin with contrition: with the recognition that Labour’s processes have been inadequate to the task, as too has the behaviour and responses of its headquarters, its MPs, and its leader.