(CNSNews.com) – Two weeks out from a general election, the left-wing politician hoping to be Britain’s next prime minister was under fire on Tuesday night over claims of deep-seated anti-Semitism in his party, but in an interview sidestepped several invitations to apologize to the Jewish community.
Earlier in the day Britain’s chief rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis, accused Jeremy Corbyn of allowing a “poison sanctioned from the top” to take root in his Labour Party, drawing fresh attention to a controversy that has plagued the official opposition for more than three years.
Mirvis, writing in The Times of London, said that “the overwhelming majority of British Jews are gripped by anxiety” at the thought of a Labour government after the December 12 election.
He rejected the party’s claims to have investigated all cases of anti-Semitism in its ranks, and called on Britons to “vote with their conscience.”
In a BBC interview, presenter Andrew Neil asked Corbyn repeatedly whether he was going to apologize to the Jewish community.
Each time he deflected, saying among other things, “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 against the abuse they receive on the streets, on the trains, or in any other form of life.”
Neil interrupted Corbyn more than once, again asking about a willingness to apologize.
“I asked you if you wanted to apologize and you haven’t,” he pressed.
“I don’t want anyone to go through what anyone has gone through,” Corbyn continued.
“Racism is our society is a total position, be it Islamophobia, anti-Semitism or any other form of racism, and I want to work with every community, to make sure it's eliminated.”
“That is what my whole life has been about,” he added.
“You’ve made that clear,” Neil said. “And people will make up their own minds.”
The head of the Church of England, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, responded by saying the chief rabbi’s “unprecedented statement at this time ought to alert us to the deep sense of insecurity and fear felt by many British Jews.”
“As a Church, we are very conscious of our own history of antisemitism,” he said. “None of us can afford to be complacent. Voicing words that commit to a stand against antisemitism requires a corresponding effort in visible action.”
Hindu and Muslim figures also weighed in, voicing support for Mirvis’ intervention. The Muslim Council of Britain tempered its expression of support with criticism of the ruling Conservative Party, saying it has approached the problem of Islamophobia in Britain “with denial, dismissal and deceit.”
Tuesday was the last day for voter registration ahead of an election dominated by debates over Britain’s departure from the European Union.
The Labour Party launched its “race and faith manifesto,” a document that among other things called for an independent review into “the threat of far-right extremism and how to tackle it,” and signaled plans to ensure that children are taught in school about “historical injustices of colonialism and the role of the British Empire.”
Speaking at the launch, Corbyn addressed the anti-Semitism row, calling the phenomenon “vile” and said it was not be tolerated under a Labour government.
Earlier this year eight Labour lawmakers resigned from the party over unhappiness with Corbyn’s performance, including his handling of allegations of anti-Semitism in the party.
Even on Tuesday, with the election just a fortnight away, a senior Labour member, Nia Griffith, said during an election debate in Wales that the party “absolutely” should apologize, calling its handling of the problem “a shame on us.”
The row has seen some Jewish Labour politicians withdraw from the party and some senior figures – including leftist former London mayor Keith Livingstone – suspended over their comments about Jews.
But critics say Corbyn has failed to firmly tackle the problem. Mirvis claimed that 130 cases of alleged anti-Semitism by Labour members remain unresolved. The party officially disputes that.
Corbyn’s own past record has not endeared him to Jews and supporters of Israel. In 2009 he called the terrorist groups Hezbollah and Hamas “friends,” a choice of words which he later said he regretted.
His broader views on the Middle East and U.S. policy have also drawn critical scrutiny.
After U.S. Navy SEALS killed al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in 2011, Corbyn in an appearance on Iran’s state-funded Press TV called the raid “yet another tragedy, upon a tragedy.”
“The World Trade Center was a tragedy, the attack on Afghanistan was a tragedy, the war in Iraq was a tragedy,” he said. “Tens of thousands of people have died. Torture has come back onto the world stage, been canonized virtually into law by Guantanamo and Bagram. Can’t we learn some lessons from this?”
In the international section of the party’s new election manifesto, Labour pledges to recognize “the state of Palestine” and to suspend immediately the sale to Israel of “arms used in violation of the human rights of Palestinian civilians.”
“International peace and security will be a primary objective of a Labour government’s foreign policy,” it states. “Britain deserves better than the Conservatives’ reckless approach to complex global challenges or the outsourcing of U.K. foreign policy to U.S. President Donald Trump.”