In what can only be deemed a train wreck of an interview, British politician Jeremy Corbyn was grilled by BBC’s Andrew Neil Tuesday night over a variety of topics, including his party’s failure to address anti-Semitism within its ranks.
Despite a mild start, Neil’s interview with the Prime Minister candidate quickly descended into chaos. Nevertheless, Neil should be wholly applauded for calling out the British left for anti-Semitism in a way U.S. mainstream media has never been able to do, despite being given ample incidents by the American Left upon which to comment.
Neil introduced the topic of anti-Semitism by offering Corbyn the opportunity to respond to the Times piece published by the UK’s Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mervis, in which Mervis claims that “a new poison – sanctioned from the top – has taken root in the Labour Party.”
Corbyn responds by stating, “I’m looking forward to having a conversation with [Rabbi Mervis] because I want to hear why he would say such a thing. So far as I’m concerned, anti-Semitism is not acceptable in any form anywhere in our society and obviously certainly not in my party, the Labour Party.” Corbyn then goes on to explain how the party has developed a “much stronger process” for addressing incidents of anti-Semitism committed by Labour members, including the sanctioning and even removal of certain members and candidates.
Corbyn attempts to pivot away from discussing Labour by pointing out strains of anti-Semitism on the far-right, but Neil has little patience for Corbyn’s equivocating. “But it’s not the far-right he’s worried about!” exclaimed Neil, referencing Rabbi Mervis. “I’m sure he is worried about the far-right, but that’s not the result of this unprecedented intervention,” declares Neil, alluding to the rarity of the Times piece. “It’s about you and how anti-Semitism arose in the Labour Party after you became leader. Why?”
Corbyn denied the connection between his ascendancy in Labour and the increased incidents of anti-Semitism within the party. It’s worth noting (as Neil did) that in a recent debate, Corbyn alleged that anyone in the party who had committed an anti-Semitic act had been “suspended or expelled” and that the party had investigated “every single case.”
Neil thus begins quizzing Corbyn on what constitutes anti-Semitism. In a highly awkward exchange, Neil must ask Corbyn three times about whether “Rothschild Zionists run Israel and world governments” is anti-Semitic before Corbyn delivers an answer in the affirmative.
“Let me ask you this, is it anti-Semitic to say, ‘Rothschild Zionists run Israel and world governments?’”
Corbyn begins. “In the Chakrabarti Report we asked that people did not use comparisons about conspiracies, not use…”
Neil interrupts. “Is that anti-Semitic?”
Corbyn continues, “Because in the belief of Shami, and I support her on this in that report, that can be constructed as being an antisemitic statement and therefore — and therefore should not be —”
Neil interrupts again. “Right, but let’s just get it clear. I asked you — I gave you a specific quote. Are the words ‘Rothschild’s Zionists run Israel and world government’, is that anti-Semitic?
Corbyn responds affirmatively. “It should not be used and it is.”
“But you can’t say it’s anti-Semitic?”
Corbyn responds, “Look, I just said that it should not be used.
Eventually, Corbyn admits the statement was “an anti-semitic trope”. Using the admission as a springboard, Neil then points out that the statement was one made by Labour Party member, Liam Moore, who still remains in the party, though no longer a council candidate after his comments were deemed “inappropriate.”
Neil asks Corbyn repeatedly, “Why has he not been suspended?” After some terse back and forth, during which Neil points out the alleged “investigation” of Moore has taken a year without any removal or suspension, Corbyn finally concedes “Look, I don’t know the process that is involved with him.”
So Neil takes up another candidate. “Let me just ask another. Is questioning whether six million Jews died in the Holocaust the kind of thing that should get you thrown out of the Labour Party?”
Corbyn responded tiredly, “It’s completely unacceptable and should not be happening.”
Neil fires back by describing the case of Lesley Perrin, a former Labour Party Member who posted a video denying the Holocaust and questioned whether the six million figure was accurate. She only received a written warning, which Corbyn attempted to attribute to the fact that it happened “some time ago.” Neil pointed out that the incident took place in 2017, to which Corbyn retorts that procedures had since been “strengthened.”
“British Jews, many of them fear you making it into Downing Street and that if you do many are preparing to leave the country. Are you not ashamed of that?” Neil cited that 80 percent of British Jews believe Corbyn is anti-Semitic and four times offers Corbyn the chance to apologize to the British Jewish community for Labour’s failure to address Jew hatred within the party. Corbyn repeatedly dodged the question by choosing to discuss other forms of racism.
“Wouldn’t you like to take this opportunity tonight to apologize to the British Jewish community for what’s happened?” asked a slightly incredulous Neil. Corbyn answered in generalities regarding the importance of safe communities for all faiths.
“So no apology?”
Corbyn is still mid-sentence. “…against the abuse they receive on the streets, on the trains or in any…”
Neil asked again. “So no apology for how you’ve handled this?”
Corbyn ignored Neil’s question. “…or any other form of life.”
Neil is persistent. “I’ll try one more time. No apology?”
Corbyn finally answers the question. “No, hang on a minute, Andrew. Can I explain what we’re trying to do?”
Neil drily replies. “You have and you’ve been given plenty of time to do that. I asked you if you wanted to apologize and you haven’t.”
It’s hard to overstate how cataclysmically bad the interview was in refuting claims that Labour has institutionalized anti-Semitism under the auspices of Corbyn’s leadership. From Corbyn’s repeated desire to blame other actors and discuss other forms of racism to his refusal to apologize to the British Jewish community, the interview will likely be remembered as a genuine nadir in the Corbyn saga.
However, it’s unlikely to derail his campaign much – for years, Corbyn supporters have heard the accusations of anti-Semitism lodged at the entirety of the party and have remained unfazed, despite concrete and repeated evidence relating both to Corbyn and other members.
And yet, it seems the Corbyn campaign is afraid. They are aware of how poorly their candidate came across Tuesday evening, so much so that, following the interview, text messages were leaked showing the Labour campaign engaging in active damage control.
The British head to the polls in two weeks to vote for their next prime minister. As one individual active in British political circles wrote to me, “Corbyn’s interview with Andrew Neil was a car crash, and Labour activists are rightly embarrassed by it. Ten minutes of his failure to act on antisemitism and repeated refusals to apologise. Corbyn is an anti-semitic racist and totally unfit for office. His supporters shouldn’t just be embarrassed – they should be ashamed.”
As I’ve written in the past when covering Corbyn, the reason his descent is so fascinatingly awful is that it offers a blueprint of what may be in store for the American Left if they continue to make excuses for anti-Semitism creeping within their ranks by often alleging that such sentiments are simply “anti-Israel” or “pro-Palestinian” rhetoric. In fact, the Washington Post attempted that same pivot earlier Wednesday morning by claiming the anti-Semitism committed by Labour members amounted to merely “strong statements on Palestinian rights.” The Washington Post has since deleted the tweet after realizing how categorically awful it was.
Many House Democrats routinely fraternized with rabid hate preacher Louis Farrakhan to little criticism. Two months ago, two House Democrats agree to be hosted by a group that published blood libel against the Jews (an event that never transpired after they were denied entry to Israel). A popular Democratic primary candidate for 2020 recently elevated anti-Semite Linda Sarsour to “campaign surrogate.” Last week, a Leftist group at Vassar chanted “from the river to the sea,” a phrase advocating for the ethnic cleansing of the Jews in Israel. Democratic leadership in New York continues to ignore the targeting of Jews in Brooklyn because most of the assailants, if not all, seem not to be from the far-right.
If any of these behaviors were associated with the right, the mainstream media in the United States would do nothing but discuss how the right had an egregious anti-Semitism problem. And even when given the chance to comment on left-wing anti-Semitism, they transform such anti-Semitism into a commentary on the Palestinians, as the Washington Post did earlier today.
I commend the British media for tackling what the American media is unable to do, either for lack of gumption or because they are indifferent to anti-Semitism or perhaps more darkly, because they find it excusable. Given the Washington Post’s reaction, I would argue the answer falls sadly in the latter two camps. Bravo to the British media. As a Jewish woman, I must admit, ours is far more pathetic.