U.K. Jewish audience challenges Labour Party leader on anti-Semitism charges

(JTA) – Facing questions from a Jewish audience about his party’s anti-Semitism problem, U.K. Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn refused to say whether the movement will kick out one of its most often accused offenders, former London mayor Ken Livingstone.

Corbyn spoke about Livingstone and other issues connected to allegations of anti-Semitism on Sunday during a debate with Owen Smith, who is challenging Corbyn for the party’s leadership, at London’s JW3 Jewish community center. It was one of the most public appearances by Corbyn at a Jewish forum in recent years. 

Hundreds of people attended the debate. Despite some jeering at Corbyn, it went off without incident.

Corbyn has faced allegations that his pro-Palestinian politics and endorsement of radical anti-Semites has encouraged hate speech against Jews. Livingstone sparked outrage in April when he said in an interview that Adolf Hitler was essentially “supporting Zionism” when he called for the expulsion of Jews in 1932.

When asked by a member of the Board of Deputies of British Jews whether the Labour Party intends to expel Livingstone, Corbyn was circumspect.

“OK, Ken Livingstone was suspended for the remarks he made, he’s under investigation, due process will follow,” Corbyn said.

Smith then said he suspected Livingstone will be allowed back into the party.

Dozens of Labour members have been suspended and several expelled from the party since February, when the British media began scrutinizing the proliferation of anti-Semitic incidents within the Labour Party after the election last year of Corbyn. In 2009, Corbyn called Hezbollah and Hamas his “friends,” a comment he later walked back. He has also called for boycotts against Israeli settlements.

Last month, British Jewish leaders dismissed an internal party report about the problem as a “whitewash” and accused Corbyn of rewarding the author by appointing her as a lawmaker.

Shami Chakrabarti, a human rights activist and Labour Party member, was recommended by Labour for peerage – a term that means being appointed to the House of Lords – last month. In her report, she asserted that while there is an “occasionally toxic atmosphere” against Jews in Labour, anti-Semitism is not prevalent in the party’s ranks. Peerage is ultimately given by the Royal House.

Corbyn reiterated during the debate his commitment to opposing all forms of racism.

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