Unite boss Len McCluskey accuses Jewish leaders of ‘intransigent hostility’ towards Jeremy Corbyn
Len McCluskey has hit out at “intransigent” Jewish community leaders, accusing them of “refusing to take ‘yes’ for an answer” as Jeremy Corbyn grapples with anti-Semitism in the Labour party.
The outspoken Unite general secretary – whose trade union is Labour’s biggest financial backer – blasted the leaders of three key Jewish groups, and accused some Labour MPs of using the row over anti-Semitism to undermine the leader.
The party’s latest battle over anti-Semitism centres on a decision by Labour’s ruling National Executive Committee (NEC) not to fully adopt an internationally-agreed definition of anti-Semitism along with its examples of anti-Jewish abuse.
After a backlash from Jewish groups and a string of the party’s own MPs, the NEC decided to reopen talks on its code of conduct.
But, while he joined those calling for full adoption of the anti-Semitism definition, Mr McCluskey said he was “at a loss to understand the motives of the leadership of the Jewish community” who continued to raise the issue.
Writing for HuffPostUK, the Unite boss claimed that while the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the Jewish Leadership Council and the Jewish Labour Movement had “raised entirely proper concerns”, they had “simply refused to take ‘yes’ for an answer”.
“Corbyn has explicitly recognised the connection most British Jews feel to Israel, and he has urged all Labour supporters to show greater empathy towards a community which has suffered so extraordinarily so relatively recently,” he said.
“What is the response from the leading Jewish community organisations to this record of reaching out, of understanding, and of action? Intransigent hostility and an utter refusal to engage in dialogue about building on what has been done and resolving outstanding difficulties.”
The union boss also blasted three Jewish newspapers – the Jewish Chronicle, Jewish News and Jewish Telegraph – for a recent unprecedented joint front page editorial warning that Mr Corbyn represented an “existential threat to Jewish life”.
Mr McCluskey said the op-ed by the three papers was “a thoroughly irresponsible act of fear-mongering”, while also accusing the president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews of “petulant trolling of Corbyn”.
A spokesperson for the Board of Deputies of British Jews hit back at the Unite chief on Thursday night.
They said: “We note that Len McCluskey has advocated the adoption of the full IHRA definition of antisemitism and its illustrative examples.
"However, his attack on the Jewish community is both unfair and unwarranted. We have had a deluge of words from the Labour leadership.
"It is about time that the Party resolved this crisis by taking the firm and decisive action which the communal leadership set out for them in detail months ago. They have so far failed to do what is right.”
UMMUNA 'INFLATING' ROW OVER ABUSE
The Unite chief meanwhile rounded on Labour MP Chuka Umunna, who recently warned that fellow backbenchers were being pushed to “breaking point” by Labour’s handling of the anti-Semitism row.
Accusing Mr Umunna of “inflating and maintaining this row”, the union boss said the Labour MP should quit on an “honest basis, embracing capitalism, the free market and the alliance with Trump’s America”.
He said: “Given the paucity of evidence that he actually produces to sustain his charge that he is a member of an ‘institutionally anti-Semitic’ party, it is fair to ask whether Umunna is merely exploiting the latest episode to justify his moves to breakaway from Labour, the plotting for which has been widely reported elsewhere.”
But the Streatham MP rejected that characterisation, and vowed that he would "not be bullied into silence" by the union boss.
FAILURE TO ADOPT IHRA 'INSENSITIVE'
In another highly significant move, Mr McCluskey joined those calling on Labour to fully adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism, making him the fourth trade union boss to do so in recent weeks.
The party has stopped short of adopting some of the IHRA examples of anti-Semitism, arguing that to do so could stifle legitimate criticism of Israel.
But the Unite chief said: “Clearly, it would have been far better for the party to have adopted at least ten of the eleven IHRA examples in their original wording.
"Not doing so - and particularly without adequate consultation - was insensitive and bound to lead to misunderstanding, and also served to distract attention from the real issues at stake. It would be for the best if all eleven were now agreed, so the party can move on.”
However, he said there were “free speech problems” with the IHRA example which focuses on descriptions of Israel as “a racist endeavour.”
“The three Jewish newspapers, in their provocative editorial, warn that full adoption of the IHRA examples would lead to possibly thousands of expulsions from the Labour Party, a prospect they appeared to welcome,” he said.
“Labour needs to take all that into account when it adopts the final version of its Code. While rooting out the anti-Semites, we cannot descend into a vortex of McCarthyism, however much Labour’s opponents might enjoy the spectacle.”
'LESS ABOUT THE SPECIFICS'
The heavyweight intervention from the key ally of Mr Corbyn came amid reports that Labour is set to back down and adopt the IHRA definition in full.
According to the Guardian, the party is gearing up to accept the entire set of guidelines as long as it can include extra clauses to ensure criticism of Israel is permitted.
A Labour source told PoliticsHome: "From hearing from a lot of MPs on this issue, it's much less about the specifics of what’s written in the code or the specifics of IHRA for them - it’s to do with perception and how it looks."
The party reportedly hopes to settle the issue before its annual conference at the end of September – and before a potentially damaging vote on the issue by MPs.