(JTA) – The last thing Jeremy Corbyn needs is another Jewish controversy.
The embattled British Labour Party leader has been dogged by claims of anti-Semitism among his supporters for years, and the issue is significantly hurting his polling numbers ahead of the Dec. 12 United Kingdom election.
On Tuesday, he inadvertently added to his woes by mispronouncing Jeffrey Epstein’s name in an election debate with Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
In response to a question by the debate’s moderator about a recent interview in which Prince Andrew, the second son of Queen Elizabeth II, defended his friendship with Epstein, Corbyn brought up the victims of Epstein’s sexual misconduct.
“Before we discuss Prince Andrew I think we should discuss the victims that are there because of what Epstein was doing,” Corbyn said.
Instead of using the correct pronunciation, “Ep-steen,” Corbyn said “Ep-shtine.”
British radio host Alec Feldman asked on Twitter whether the pronunciation made Epstein’s name “sound more Jewish,” a suggestion that was retweeted by comedian David Baddiel to his 630,000 followers. Baddiel added, “Every Jew noticed that.” The Metro daily headlined its coverage of the incident “Jeremy Corbyn accused of anti-Semitism for pronunciation of Epstein’s name.”
Catherine Lenson, a board member at a suburban London synagogue, wrote about the pronunciation a 13-part thread on Twitter that has been shared 100 times.
Lenson argued that with the pronunciation, Corbyn “can’t help himself inserting a subtle racist dig at the British Jews watching” because “There’s just no way Corbyn doesn’t know that Epstein didn’t pronounce it that way” following “rolling news coverage for the last year.”
Baddiel disagreed with Lenson’s claim that the mispronunciation was deliberate.
“I think that moment was subconscious: which perhaps says more,” Baddiel wrote.
Corbyn’s pronunciation did get some endorsements, including by Jewdas, a small group of far-left Jews who support Corbyn.
“Well done, @jeremycorbyn for pronouncing ‘Epstein’ properly,” Jewdas wrote on Twitter.
Stan Attaphia, a far-left activist from Britain, called the debate an attempt to grab at any straw to smear Corbyn.
“This is just tomato/tomayto bullshit,” he wrote. “Take the famous name Einstein. No one says ‘Einsteen.’”
Corbyn hasn’t helped his cause in the past, even in efforts to placate critics of Labour’s record on anti-Semitism. Last year he attended a Passover Seder – but it featured a prayer for Israel’s destruction by far-left Jews who participated.
Also last year, his statement on International Holocaust Remembrance Day omitted any reference to Jews. (Britain’s chief rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis, also didn’t mention Jews in a statement on the same day.)
At another moment in Tuesday’s debate, Corbyn was challenged by the host on Labour’s anti-Semitism record.
“Anti-Semitism is an absolute evil and scourge within our society,” Corbyn said. “Racism in any form is a scourge in our society. I have taken action in my party. When anyone has committed any anti-Semitic acts or made any anti-Semitic statements they are either suspended or expelled from the party and we have investigated every single case.”
Boris Johnson said he listened to Corbyn’s claims “open-mouthed” because what has happened to Labour regarding anti-Semitism, he said, shows a “complete failure in leadership” by Corbyn.
A harsher reaction to Corbyn’s claims came from Peter Mason, a local politician from Corbyn’s own party serving as a councillor, or alderman, in the London borough of Ealing.
“This is a lie,” Mason wrote on Twitter about Corbyn’s claim of handling complaints on anti-Semitism.
“Grossly anti-Semitic behavior was excused,” he wrote, amid “political manipulation of a system by those running the party. And all for what? How has this festering anti-Jewish racism, the inaction, the lies & the cover ups, ever helped the party in any way? This is a disgraceful episode in the long and proud history of the Labour Party.”