Chief Rabbi warns that Labour has 'severe' problem with antisemitism

Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, left, with his predecessor Lord Sacks.Stefan Rousseau/Reuters

Britain's Chief Rabbi has condemned the "poisonous invective" of politicians such as Ken Livingstone and warned that Labour has a "severe" problem with antisemitism.

In an article for the Telegraph, Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis says the time has come to "give the lie" to a myth that has dominated recent headlines and poisoned public discourse on antisemitism and Israel for decades.

He says it is "astonishing" prominent politicians on the hard left of British politics presume to define the relationship between Judaism and Zionism, despite themselves being neither Jews nor Zionists.

He accuses Livingstone and others of being "expansionist, colonialist and imperialist" when they argue that Zionism and Judaism are separate.

"Zionism is a belief in the right to Jewish self-determination in a land that has been at the centre of the Jewish world for more than 3,000 years. One can no more separate it from Judaism than separate the City of London from Great Britain," he says.

To those who seek to vilify and delegitimise Zionism, he says: "Be under no illusions – you are deeply insulting not only the Jewish community but countless others who instinctively reject the politics of distortion and demonisation."

Antisemitism is not just a problem for Jews, it is a problem for all society, he continues.

Comments from senior and long-standing members of the Labour Party, both Jewish and not, show just how severe the problem has now become.

Mirvis said he hoped the inquiry set up by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn will deliver on his pledge not to tolerate antisemitism in any form.

"I draw a great deal of comfort from the very strong response that this sorry affair has elicited. There must be no corner of Britain today in which antisemitism can lurk."