The leader of Barnet Council’s Labour group has declared that Jeremy Corbyn has a “blind spot” on anti-semitism that risks costing the party crucial Jewish support in its bid to topple the Tories in the local elections.
In an exclusive blog for HuffPost UK, Barry Rawlings said the Labour leader should state clearly that his supporters on the Left who compare Israelis to Hitler are “no better than far right fascists”.
His hard-hitting words came as Labour MP John Woodcock signalled that he was considering resigning the whip in protest at Corybn’s leadership on anti-semitism, Russia and Brexit.
Rawlings, who hopes to take the flagship north London town hall from the Conservatives on May 3, attacked the “disgusting” rise of Jew hatred that had “infected” his party in recent years and urged Corbyn to lead from the front on the issue.
The council is on a political knife-edge, with 31 Tories to Labour’s 30 and given Corbyn’s popularity among London voters more widely the party would be expected to take control for the first time ever.
Barnet has had a Tory majority for nearly all of its 53-year history.
But Jewish voters make up more than 20% of the electorate in key parts of the borough, and there are fears among the party’s MPs and activists that the row over anti-semitism could prevent it from scoring an historic victory in Margaret Thatcher’s former backyard.
“For the many Jews I speak to, the current situation feels like the ultimate betrayal of our collective history,” he said.
The Labour group leader said that he had known Corbyn for decades and he had “no doubt that he is an anti-racist”.
“But even anti-racists can have blind spots. It has become abundantly clear to the majority of Jewish residents I speak to in Barnet that this blind spot is real for Corbyn and especially for some of his followers.
“Holocaust denial, Jewish conspiracy theories, comparisons of Jews to Nazis, claims of Jews being responsible for the slave trade, amongst other vile tropes, have all become acceptable in parts of our party if they are made under the guise of anti-Israel or pro-Palestinian campaigning.”
It’s unclear whether voters will refuse to back Labour on May 3 in the borough, given the party’s strong Jewish links and candidates, and Corbyn supporters will argue that the public may prefer to focus on ousting the Tories.
Rawlings urged his leader to meet local candidates such as Rabbi Danny Rich, senior rabbi of Liberal Judaism, to see a model of inter-community relations.
Rawlings’ warning came as Corbyn told a private meeting of Labour backbenchers that the disciplinary process for dealing with allegations should be speeded up, with smaller disputes panels of the ruling National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting more frequently.
He also pledged to email all of Labour’s half a million members a copy of his letter to Jewish groups issued this week, setting out his most comprehensive condemnation of anti-semitism in the party to date.
The Board of Deputies of British Jews (BDBJ) and the Jewish Leadership Council (JLC) organised a packed protest in Parliament Square on Monday, urging tougher action and an apology for Corbyn’s apparent support in 2012 for an offensive mural in London’s East End.
The two groups on Wednesday issued a fresh letter in response to the Labour leader, thanking him for his apology for the “pain” caused by the party’s anti-semitic elements.
But they refused to meet Corbyn unless he agreed to state “publicly and in your own voice” that Labour MPs, who have been vilified by some on the Left for attending the Parliament Square protest, had “every right to support us”.
Labour MP David Lammy was attacked on Facebook by some activists calling for his possible deselection for attending the ‘Enough is Enough’ protest on Monday. Other MPs who attended have also claimed they have been subjected to abuse.
One source claimed that Corbyn had told the backbench Parliamentary Committee that it wasn’t his place to support of condemn MPs who joined the demo, though sources close to the leadership denied the claim.
With Labour admitting a backlog of more than 70 cases of Jew-hating abuse, the two Jewish groups also demanded an independent ombudsman to oversee swift resolution of disciplinary cases.
Barrow MP Woodcock was reported to have confided to colleagues that he was on the brink of quitting the party whip over the way Corbyn handled of a series of recent rows.
He denied he had made any decision, but hinted that he was considering the move, telling PoliticsHome “my loyalty is to my constituents and local party members and anything I say in future will be to them first”.