Rivlin Meets U.K. Chief Rabbi Amid Furor Over Labor Party Antisemitism

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin shaking hands with U.K. Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, in London on Wednesday. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin met on Wednesday with British Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, currently embroiled in the uproar over anti-Semitism in the Labor party.

Rivlin “lent his support to Rabbi Mirvis’ work, including the article he published recently expressing his concerns about rising anti-Semitism in the U.K., and told him ‘your clear voice and leadership, particularly in the last few days, fills us all with pride,’” according to a statement released by Rivlin’s office.

Rabbi Mirvis warned in an op-ed in The Times on Monday that “a new poison — sanctioned from the top — has taken root in the Labor Party” and that Britain’s Jews were “gripped by anxiety” over their future in the country, due to the prospect of a Labor victory in the December 12 election.

The article did not mention Labor leader Jeremy Corbyn, who has been at the center of the swirling controversy, nor did it call on people not to vote for the party.

But the reference was clearly understood, and the next day it prompted a BBC interviewer to ask Corbyn repeatedly if he would apologize to the Jewish community, but Corbyn refused, though he condemned anti-Semitism in general.

“What I’ll say is this: I am determined that our society will be safe for people of all faiths,” Corbyn said in the interview.

On Wednesday, however, Corbyn claimed that he declined to apologize because his partly had already done so.

“I have made very clear anti-Semitism is completely wrong in our society, and our party did make it clear when I was elected leader and after that, that anti-Semitism is unacceptable in any form in our party or our society, and did indeed offer its sympathies and apologies to those who had suffered,” Corbyn told a news conference, according to Reuters.

Corbyn’s party has been plagued by accusations of anti-Semitism since he became chairman in 2015. Thousands of cases of alleged hate speech against Jews have been recorded within Labor since that time. And in a widely-viewed recent BBC documentary, former Labor staff members told of how they had been subjected to anti-Semitic abuse, and alleged that senior party officials interfered in investigations of complaints.

The Labor party, which once held the support of a large percentage of British Jews, will get the votes of just six percent of the community in the next election, according to polls. Anxiety over a Labor administration is so acute that nearly half say they would “seriously consider” emigrating if Corbyn — whom 87 percent of respondents believe is an anti-Semite — becomes prime minister.

Meanwhile, on Wednesday, a Jewish candidate for Labor said she was being bombarded with death threats, half of which are anti-Semitic, the Times of Israel reported.

Ruth Smeeth said she is afraid to leave her home due to the constant threats. When she does leave the house, she carries a panic button in case she is attacked, according to a local media report.

She does not go anywhere alone and has not ridden public transportation in 18 months, she said.

She decided to go public about the matter after a death threat was hand-delivered to her constituency office.

“I’m not asking for sympathy, I just feel like I need to put down a marker to say this is not normal and it is not acceptable,” she said. “I won’t be bullied by anyone. We need to find a way back to respectfully disagreeing with each other, not threatening to hurt each other.”

Smeeth has represented the Stoke-on Trent North constituency in Staffordshire in central England since 2015.

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