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May 4, 2018
 

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HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, MAY 4, 2018 PAGE 7A By Cnaan Liphshlz LONDON (JTA)--Keith Walkerwas havingasandwich in Parliament Square when he saw something that made him sit up straight and cut short his lunch. What did the 42-year-old activist for disabled people's rights find so fascinating? It was three billboards on wheels that circled around the square for several long minutes last week during one of its busiest days of the year. They carried text accusing Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn oftoleratinganti-Semitism in the party. Inspired by the award-win- ning American film "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri," the billboards were part of a series of un- precedented street protests by British Jews against a leader of the party that used to be their political home. The April 17 protest coin- cided with a rare parliamen- tary debate on anti-Semitism that focused on Labour. During the discussion, Jew- ish Labour lawmakers like Ruth Smeeth and Luciana Berger recounted the many verbal attacks that they have encountered since 2015, when Corbyn was elected party leader. The row over anti-Sem- itism in Labour under Corbyn has been raging for two years inside the party and beyond. The Board of Deputies of British Jews and other Jewish groups have accused Corbyn, a hard-left politician, of tolerat- ing and at times encouraging expressions of anti-Semitism disguised as anti-Zionism or anti-capitalism by thousands of supporters who joined the party under him. Corbyn has vowed to fight racism. His party has kicked out some members caught en- gaging in anti-Semitic rheto- ric. But under Corbyn--who in 2009 called Hamas and He- zbollah his"friends'whom he said he was "honored" to host in parliament--Labour has also readmitted or refrained from punishing others who made statements perceived as anti-Semitic. The signs, which cost $6,300 that organizers raised online from dozens of donors, reflect a new development in the dispute, in which Jew- ish criticism of Corbyn over anti-Semitism in Labour has moved from Facebook and dinner table conversation onto the street. But if the organizers of the signs initiative and other street actions in recent weeks have sought to turn Corbyn's supporters against him over these issues, then they have had only partial results. "I think it's a load of bol- locks," an outraged Walker told JTA as he engaged one of the drivers. "Who's paying you, bruv? Who'd you work for? Is it the Tories or Tony Blair?" he demanded as he snapped pictures of the vans with his cellphone. Walker's suggestion that protests by Jews against Cor- byn are orchestrated by the ruling Conservative Party or the center-left former leader of Labour is typical of how the allegations are strengthening his popularity with some die- hard supporters rather than weakening it. "It's obvious, innit, they're trying to smear him to keep him from redistributing wealth and taking it from the rich to give to the rest of us," Walker said. Igor Martynowski, a 26-year-old cartoon artist, also was "disgusted" by the protest. "Instead of doing some- thing with the potential of helping someone, or the environment, they're just spending money smearing someone else. It's just sad," he said about the signs, which spoke about "Holocaust de- niers harboredby Labour" and "institutional anti-Semitism in Corbyn's Labour." Carina Garret, a 21 -year- old student from Liverpool, said she agreed that Labour has an anti-Semitism problem, "but Corbyn's not it." Some of his supporters are the problem, she said. Garret called the initiative of the three signs and other initiatives targeting Corbyn a "distraction" and a "real shame." Van-mounted billboards in central London were the latest escalation in British Jews' publicized row with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. Her schoolmate Dave Aid- winkle said Corbyn's Jewish critics have "gone too far." Aldwinkle and Garret, who are not Jewish, both said they support Corbyn for prime minister. "He's an activist, not a politician, and that's his strength," Aidwinkle said. Garret said she could think of no weaknesses or faults preventing Corbyn from being a good prime minister. Aid- winkle said Corbyn at times was "too soft" on his critics instead of "fighting back." Amid intense and unprec- edented scrutiny by the media over Labour's anti-Semitism problem, Corbyn won 40 percent of the vote in the 2017 parliamentary elections despite predictions that Prime Minister Theresa May of the Conservative Party would win handily. But among Jews, Corbyn is so unpopular that some, in- cluding Jonathan Hoffman, an organizer of the tree signs initiative and former vice chair of the Zionist Federation of Britain, are saying they would leave Britain if he is elected prime minister. Last month, hundreds showed up at a rally protesting Labour anti-Semitism orga- nized by the Board of Depu- ties of British Jews outside Parliament under the banner "Enough is Enough." OnApril 8, hundreds of demonstrators gathered at a rowdier rally by a British Jewish group, the Campaign Against Anti- Semitism, in which speakers accused Corbyn personally of being an anti-Semite. The street-level mobiliza- tion follows recent cases in which Corbyn was implicated personally in a speech deemed anti-Semitic, according to Billboards on page 15A