Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, the former chief rabbi of Britain, spoke out against Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn’s recently unearthed comments on Zionists not understanding “English irony” as “the language of classic pre-war European anti-Semitism” in an interview with the New Statesman.
In the interview published on Tuesday, Sacks decried Corbyn’s comments as “the most offensive statement made by a senior British politician since Enoch Powell’s 1968 ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech.”
“It was divisive, hateful and like Powell’s speech it undermines the existence of an entire group of British citizens by depicting them as essentially alien,” Sacks said.
Powell’s “Rivers of Blood” speech involved then-Defense Minister Powell railing against massive immigration into Britain.
Sacks added that Corbyn “has given support to racists, terrorists and dealers of hate who want to kill Jews and remove from Israel from the map.”
“When he implies that, however long they have lived here, Jews are not fully British, he is using the language of classic pre-war European anti-Semitism,” Sacks said. “When challenged with such facts, the evidence for which is before our eyes, first he denies, then he equivocates, then he obfuscates. This is low, dishonest and dangerous. He has legitimized the public expression of hate, and where he leads, others will follow.”
The Labour Party is claiming that Corbyn was only talking about “a particular group of pro-Israel activists as Zionists,” but Corbyn’s remarks seem to have been a breaking point for some British Jews. The London Times’ Josh Glancy wrote in a Monday New York Times op-ed:
The video was a watershed for many. Daniel Finkelstein, a Tory peer and columnist for The Times of London, called the revelation “qualitatively different from anything that has come before.” Ben Judah, a Labour-voting author, said that “the nasty comment from Mr. Corbyn on ‘Zionists’ not getting ‘English irony’ has finally snapped the benefit of the doubt extended by many Jewish progressives.”
A writer for The Guardian, Simon Hattenstone, who has repeatedly defended Jeremy Corbyn against charges of anti-Semitism, called his speech “unquestionably anti-Semitic.” And it wasn’t just the Jews. George Monbiot, a giant of the British left, described the comments as “anti-Semitic and unacceptable.”
And from Mr. Corbyn’s most vehement defenders, such as the Guardian columnist Owen Jones or the Novara Media columnist Ash Sarkar? Crickets.
“This was classic anti-Semitism,” Glancy wrote. “Here were a group of Jews with whom Mr. Corbyn has a political disagreement. And he smeared them not on the basis of that disagreement but on the basis of their ethnicity. He accused them of failing to assimilate English values, of not fitting in, of still being a bit foreign. Had they been Christian Zionists, he could not have insulted them in this way.”
The Campaign Against Anti-Semitism, a British watchdog group, has called on Corbyn to step down from the Labour Party.
“We had hoped that the Labour Party might at some point rise to the defense of British Jews by removing Jeremy Corbyn or by demanding his resignation, but the institutions of the once proudly anti-racist Labour Party are now corrupted and will not act,” the watchdog organization said. “Instead, they merely persecute those members who stand up to anti-Semitism.”