By Charlotte King
The Labour Party has repeatedly made headlines over the past two years, gracing the front pages of newspapers because of incidences of supposed anti-Semitism.
It seems that the anti-Semitic tsunami has now made its way to Cardiff, as Jenny Rathbone, Cardiff Central’s Assembly Member (AM), has recently found herself in the firing line after anti-Semitic comments she made in November 2017 have emerged. Last Tuesday, she was suspended from the Senedd.
The comments were made at a question and answer event in her Cardiff Central constituency. When asked about increasing security measures at Cyncoed Synagogue in Cardiff, Rathbone responded: “How much of [anti-Semitism] is real and how much of it is in their own heads? I think siege mentalities are also a part of it”. She then added: “I think […] the failure to come to a peace settlement around Palestine and Israel” and the Israeli Government “behaving like a conqueror […] drives people to be hostile to the Jewish community in this country”. She finally stressed that it was the Jewish community’s “responsibility to try and promote peace”.
A recording of these comments was recently received by The Jewish Chronicle and since then Rathbone has been inundated with criticism for her “intolerance” to the plight of the Jewish community within the country. There is a strong consensus among Jewish leaders in Wales that Rathbone’s behaviour was “inexcusable”, with some arguing her lack of understanding of the community reflects her incapability of representing Cardiff Central constituency in the Welsh Assembly.
Carwyn Jones, Wales’ First Minister and current leader of Welsh Labour, has seconded that Rathbone’s behaviour was “totally unacceptable”. After receiving a number of complaints, he has passed the issue on to the General Secretary of the Labour Party who is now conducting an investigation into the AM’s comments.
The Welsh Conservative faith spokesman, Mohammed Asghar, has commented that “anti-Semitism has come to Wales and is no longer just Jeremy Corbyn’s problem – but Carwyn Jones and his successor’s too”.
In the face of this backlash, the Cardiff Central AM has apologised profusely, stating: “I accept that comments I made last year were insensitive and have laid me open to accusations of intolerance. I apologise for any upset that my remarks may have caused to individual constituents and the wider Jewish community”. She then added: “No one can or should downplay the fears and concerns that many Jewish people are experiencing […] and it is also not acceptable to suggest that the Jewish community are responsible for the actions of the Israeli Government”.
Jenny Rathbone recently met with her local Rabbi, Michoel Rose, who commented that the AM did not seem to truly consider “the reality of what the Jewish community in this country is facing” and that her comments were “extremely offensive”. He added however that she had seemed “very apologetic”.
Labour Against Anti-Semitism has made its position clear on the incident, stating “we call on First Minister Carwyn Jones to make an example of Ms Rathbone and lead efforts to expel her from the Labour Party”.
The main source of upset among the Jewish community is that Rathbone suggested that claims about anti-Semitic hate crimes being on the rise are rooted in paranoia within the Jewish community. This is however proved false by the figures recently published by the Home Office, which show that Jews are twice as likely to be attacked compared to any other religious groups in the UK.
Rathbone has recently referred herself for equality training in response to the criticisms made against her. There will be no insight into whether she can return to represent Cardiff Central in the Senedd until the Labour Party has conducted its investigation. All we can be sure of is that it appears the row over anti-Semitism in the Labour Party is not over yet.