Johnson Says Chief Rabbi's Remarks on Labour anti-Semitism Is 'Very Serious Business'

'Under a Labour government anti-Semitism will not be tolerated in any form, whatsoever,' Corbyn says in response to harsh allegations of failing to root out bigotry

Jeremy Corbyn prepares to speak at the launch of Labour's Race and Faith Manifesto in London, November 26, 2019.
Isabel Infantes/AFP

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Tuesday it was a "serious business" when the country's chief rabbi criticized opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn for failing to root out anti-Semitism from the Labour party.

"All I will say about that is I do think it is a very serious business when the chief rabbi speaks as he does," Johnson said in response to a question from a reporter on Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis's attack on Corbyn.

"I've never known anything like it and clearly it is a failure of leadership on the part of the Labour leader that he has not been able to stamp out this virus in the Labour Party."

In the article published on Monday, Mirvis said that the poison of anti-Semitism “sanctioned from the top” has taken root in Britain’s opposition Labour Party, warning the “soul of our nation is at stake” in next month’s election.

“The question I am now most frequently asked is: What will become of Jews and Judaism in Britain if the Labour Party forms the next government? This anxiety is justified,” Mirvis, Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, wrote in an article for Tuesday’s edition of the Times newspaper.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said in response: "Anti-Semitism in any form is vile and wrong, 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. I want to make that clear."

A spokesman for Labour, who are trailing Johnson’s Conservatives in the polls ahead of the December 12 election, said Corbyn was a lifelong campaigner against anti-Semitism.

The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said Mirvis's remarks should alert the country to the unease felt by many Jews.

Welby said political parties must make it “an absolute priority” to avoid any actions that increase the perception of fear. He said Mirvis’s statement “ought to alert us to the deep sense of insecurity and fear felt by many British Jews.”

The chief rabbi said the response of the party’s leadership as their supporters drove lawmakers, members and staff out of the party for challenging anti-Jewish racism had been “utterly inadequate” and claims the party was doing everything it could and had investigated every case were “mendacious fiction.”

“It is a failure to see this as a human problem rather than a political one. It is a failure of culture. It is a failure of leadership. A new poison – sanctioned from the top – has taken root in the Labour Party,” he wrote.