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Faith leaders weigh in over racism in politics

29 November 2019

Labour accused of anti-Semitism, Tories of Islamophobia


Jeremy Corbyn (right), and the Labour Party’s candidate for Slough, Tan Dhesi, at the launch of Labour’s race and faith manifesto, on Tuesday

Jeremy Corbyn (right), and the Labour Party’s candidate for Slough, Tan Dhesi, at the launch of Labour’s race and faith manifesto, on Tuesday

JEWISH and Muslim faith groups criticised the two largest political parties over their handling of racism this week, in an unprecedented series of statements.

On Tuesday, the Chief Rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis, warned that a “new poison” has taken hold of the Labour Party. Later the same day, a spokesman for the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) said that the Conservative Party tolerates Islamophobia.

In a strongly worded article in The Times, Rabbi Mirvis, wrote: “The Jewish community has watched with incredulity as supporters of the Labour leadership have hounded parliamentarians, members, and even staff out of the party for challenging anti-Jewish racism.”

The MCB spokesman said that the Chief Rabbi had highlighted the “unacceptable presence of anti-Semitism in Britain and in politics today”, and said that “not enough is being done” to tackle racism, “whether from the Left or the Right”.

The statement continued: “As a faith community, we commonly are threatened by Islamophobia. This is an issue that is particularly acute in the Conservative Party who have approached Islamophobia with denial, dismissal and deceit.”

In a statement on social media on Tuesday morning, Archbishop Welby backed the Chief Rabbi, writing that his “statement provides all of us with the opportunity to ensure our words and actions properly reflect our commitments to mutual flourishing and inclusion, for the common good”.

Archbishop Welby continued: “Everyone in our country is entitled to feel safe and secure. They should be able to live in accordance with their beliefs and freely express their culture and faith.

“As a Church, we are very conscious of our own history of antisemitism. None of us can afford to be complacent. Voicing words that commit to a stand against antisemitism requires a corresponding effort in visible action.”

His support of the Chief Rabbi follows the publication of the Church of England’s first authoritative publication on Jewish-Christian relations last week (News, 22 November).

On Wednesday, Archbishop Welby said on Radio 5 Live: “The Jewish community and Muslim community, have, in recent years, felt very under attack, very threatened, very vulnerable. To deal with that, true repentance means a positive course of action, which will make them feel reassured.”

Rabbi Mirvis described the response of the Labour leadership to allegations of anti-Semitism as “utterly inadequate”.

Both Archbishop Welby and Rabbi Mirvis stop short of telling people how to vote. The Chief Rabbi concluded: “It is not my place to tell any person how they should vote. I regret being in this situation at all. I simply pose the question: What will the result of this election say about the moral compass of our country?

“When December 12 arrives, I ask every person to vote with their conscience. Be in no doubt, the very soul of our nation is at stake.”

During a BBC television interview on Tuesday evening, the Leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, declined to apologise for anti-Semitism within his party. Instead, he said: “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.” The Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell said on Wednesday: “I’m really sorry [for] the way we handled it initially.”

The MCB spokesman said that the Conservative Party had allowed Islamophobia “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.

“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.”

Two further groups, which describe themselves as representing Hindus and Sikhs in the UK, also published statements on Tuesday.

The Hindu Council came out in support of the Chief Rabbi. Its director for interfaith relations, Anil Bhanot, also alleged that Labour has become “anti-Hindu”, linking this to the party’s stance on Kashmir.

Bhai Amrik Singh, who chairs the Sikh Federation, said that there was “far too much emphasis on anti-Semitism and Islamophobia as both terms have become politicised”.

Mr Singh said that Sikhs were “overlooked time and again” when it comes to racism and discrimination.

On Tuesday, Labour launched its “faith and race manifesto” which said that it would give protection for religious groups, places of worship, and better levels of religious literacy among Foreign Office staff.

The Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, said: “Any attack on a temple, synagogue, or a church is an attack on all of us. We will ensure there is full protection for all places of worship if they ask for it.”

He went on: “When I am in government, my door will be open to leaders of all faiths and none: the Chief Rabbi, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and leaders from all other aspects of the Christian faith.”

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