Jeremy Corbyn has come under fierce pressure to apologise to the UK’s Jewish community for his handling of the Labour party’s antisemitism crisis.
The Labour leader last night repeatedly refused to say sorry to British Jews after chief rabbi Ephraim Mirvis said he was unfit to be Prime Minister.
In a BBC interview last night Corbyn said antisemitism was “vile and wrong” and would not be tolerated in his party, but stopped short of issuing an apology.
Shadow defence secretary Nia Griffith last night urged the Labour leader to apologise, saying she was “very, very ashamed” of the party’s handling of the issue.
The senior shadow cabinet minister said that Corbyn had agreed to meet the chief rabbi.
“I would say absolutely that we need to apologise to our colleagues in my own party who have been very upset but to the whole of the Jewish community as well, that we have not been as effective as we should have been in dealing with this problem,” she said during a TV debate in Wales.
“It is a shame on us, it really is, and it’s something I’m very, very ashamed of and it’s something we must absolutely put right.”
The Board of Deputies of British Jews branded Corbyn’s response “shameful”.
Labour’s antisemitism debacle was thrust into the limelight earlier this week when Mirvis launched an unprecedented intervention in politics.
“It is a failure of culture. It is a failure of leadership,” he wrote in The Times. “A new poison – sanctioned from the top – has taken root in the Labour party.”
When challenged over the comments, Corbyn said the chief rabbi was “not right” to say that Labour’s claim to have investigated every case of antisemitism was “mendacious fiction”.
“There is no place whatsoever for antisemitism 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. I want to make that clear.”
BBC presenter Andrew Neil said: “Eighty per cent of Jews think that you’re antisemitic. That’s quite a lot of British Jews. I mean wouldn’t you like to take this opportunity tonight to apologise to the British Jewish community for what’s happened?”
Corbyn responded: “What I’ll say is this. I am determined that our society will be safe for people of all faiths. I don’t want anyone to be feeling insecure in our society and our government will protect every community.”
But Neil cut him off, asking: “So no apology?”
Moments later he said: “I’ll try one more time. No apology?”
“No, hang on a minute, Andrew. Can I explain what we’re trying to do?” Corbyn replied.
Neil said: “You have and you’ve been given plenty of time to do that. I asked you if you wanted to apologise and you haven’t.”