(JTA) — Both the chief rabbi of Britain and the leader of its Labour Party omitted any direct reference to Jewish victims or anti-Semitism from statements they made just ahead of International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis’ address Friday on the BBC was greeted by respectful silence. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s statement, meanwhile, touched off a cascade of condemnations that above all demonstrated again that when it comes to the genocide, context is everything.
Coming at a low point in the relationship between British Jews and the party that used to be their political home, the brouhaha this week ahead of Saturday’s memorial day echoed the controversy that erupted in the United States over last year’s commemoration when President Donald Trump was widely condemned for leaving the Jews out of his Holocaust memorial statement.
Large segments of American Jewry, suspicious of Trump and his “America First” nationalism, were outraged, although even institutions like the Israel Defense Forces have used similar formulations in their official proclamations.
While Corbyn’s statement recalls the “millions who died, the millions displaced and cruel hurt their descendants have suffered,” it does not mention Jews by name.
The Campaign Against Anti-Semitism group called on Corbyn, a left-wing politician who has been accused of tolerating and whitewashing his party’s anti-Semitism problem, to apologize for writing a statement that “outrageously omits Jews and antisemitism.”
David Bennun, a Jewish writer and journalist, wrote on Twitter that “Jeremy Corbyn recalls the Holocaust while refusing to acknowledge its principal victims were Jews.” Equating that with Soviet-era Holocaust memorials that spoke only of “Soviet citizens,” Bennun charged that “This is dog-whistle stuff and it’s nasty.”
Jonathan Greenblatt, the CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, posted a screen grab on Twitter of Corbyn’s statement on Facebook, adding: “To omit any reference to Jews or anti-Semitism in your Holocaust remembrance statement is offensive to us and the millions murdered.”
If that’s universally true, then it must also apply to Prime Minister Theresa May, who mentioned neither Jews nor anti-Semitism in a statement she wrote Friday for the Holocaust Educational Trust. Or the Liberal Democrat Party’s Vince Cable. Or Sajid Javid, the British secretary of state for housing.
Or of Rabbi Mirvis, who during a three-minute address Friday morning about the Holocaust said the word “Jewish” once in a preface to the main theme of his talk, referencing an old folk story about the power of words. But in speaking about the Holocaust, he described it as “the murder of millions of innocent women, men and children.”
In a separate message Friday on Twitter, Mirvis did mention Jews and anti-Semitism. Corbyn did, too, in a different statement this week to the Holocaust Educational Trust, calling the victims “our Jewish brothers and sisters.”
The selective treatment of Corbyn did not go unnoticed — even in the Jewish media that have been less than sympathetic to him over Labour’s anti-Semitism problem.
“Jeremy Corbyn’s was singled out for excoriation on social media,” the Jewish Chronicle of London informed its readers in a news article on the subject.
While unfair, the extra vigilance toward Corbyn is not entirely unpredictable for a politician who the Board of Deputies of British Jews said, in an unusual statement in 2016, cannot be trusted.
Under Corbyn, thousands of people, many from the far left, joined Labour in a development that British Jewish leadersaid has generated an anti-Semitism problem in the party’s ranks. A British parliamentary committee of inquiry in 2016 upheld claims that the party’s leadership is failing to confront seriously anti-Semitism in its ranks. And internal Labour reviews that downplayed the problem were dismissed as a “whitewash” by the Jewish Board.
All of which came into play in the reactions to Corbyn’s statement about the Holocaust, Jason Braier, a Jewish lawyer from London, wrote Friday on Facebook.
“It’s difficult to be charitable to a person who spoke at a Labour Friends of Israel meeting without mentioning the word Israel, and who refuses to interact with the Jewish press, and who has shown repeated willful blindness to acts and words of anti-Semitism,” Braier wrote of Corbyn.