LONDON — Institutional racism was the theme of the day on the U.K. general election campaign trail.
Both the Conservatives and Labour have faced accusations from religious figures that they have failed to adequately tackle anti-Semitism and Islamophobia in their ranks.
The issue has dogged British politics for several years, with the leaders of the two main parties struggling to address repeated criticisms of their handling of the issue.
Accusations of racism have now burst to the fore in an election campaign that Boris Johnson wants to be about Brexit and Jeremy Corbyn wants to be about everything else.
First, Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis said Corbyn was “unfit for the office” and voters should study their conscience before backing his party on December 12.
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In an article for the Times on Tuesday, he said an “overwhelming majority” of British Jews are “gripped by anxiety” over the outcome of the election, with the rabbi condemning what he called the “utterly inadequate” response of the Labour leadership to anti-Semitism cases and the departure of Jewish MPs and staff from the party. He said claims by Corbyn that 130 anti-Semitism cases still had not been investigated were untrue — something the Labour Party denied.
Later Tuesday, Corbyn was more than an hour late to launch a “race and faith” manifesto in central London.
“Anti-Semitism in any form is vile and wrong. It is an evil within our society,” he said at the event. “There is no place whatsoever for anti-Semitism in any shape or form or in any place whatsoever in modern Britain and under a Labour government it will not be tolerated in any form whatsoever.”
The Muslim Council of Britain issued its own rebuke of the Conservative Party over its record on tackling Islamophobia in its ranks.
He insisted Labour had “rapid and effective” processes to investigate claims of anti-Semitism which were constantly under review.
Labour peer Lord Dubs, who as a child fled the Nazis from what was then Czechoslovakia, said the chief rabbi had “gone too far.” He told BBC Radio 4’s “Today” program that the Labour Party had been too slow to tackle racism in its ranks, but added: “I don’t believe [Corbyn] is personally anti-Semitic and I believe he will find it very, very hurtful that people accuse him of being anti-Semitic or racist or Islamophobic. He is none of those things.”
The intervention by Mirvis was made all the more damaging when Jonathan Goldstein, the chair of the Jewish Leadership Council, said Corbyn has not met Jewish leaders for more than a year despite promises to do so. He told told the Emma Barnett show on BBC Radio 5 Live that he and other groups met the Labour leader in April 2018 and were told they would be invited back, but the invitation never came.
“You would have hoped and believed that the Labour Party would have reached out to us during that period, to build bridges, to deal with the issue,” he said.
Also on Tuesday, the Muslim Council of Britain issued its own rebuke of the Conservative Party over its record on tackling Islamophobia in its ranks. It backed the chief rabbi in his criticism of Labour and said all forms of racism, on the left or the right, are “unacceptable.”
An MCB spokesperson said Islamophobia was “particularly acute in the Conservative Party who have approached [it] with denial, dismissal and deceit. It is abundantly clear to many Muslims that the Conservative Party tolerate Islamophobia, allow it to fester in society, and fail to put in place the measures necessary to root out this type of racism. It is as if the Conservative Party has a blind spot for this type of racism.”
The statement continued: “British Muslims — whilst from the most disadvantaged communities and rarely allowed a voice in the public space — will listen to the chief rabbi and agree on the importance of voting with their conscience.”
The Conservative Party did not comment in time for publication. During the Tory leadership campaign Johnson said he would launch an inquiry into Islamophobia in the party, but has since said the probe would include all forms of prejudice.
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