Rebuttal: The story the media missed on ex-chief rabbi Sacks

Alasdair Clark

Ex-chief rabbi Jonathan Sacks compared comments by Jeremy Corbyn to Enoch Powell, but what questions did most of the media leave unasked? 

DUBBED the summer of discontent, Labour is facing a growing “crisis” as it battles to deal with allegations of anti-semetism, and comments from Jeremy Corbyn in 2013 have provoked fresh fury amongst some who say the Labour leader is himself anti-semetic

In an exclusive interview with the New Statesman, ex-chief rabbi Sacks said the Labour leader was an anti-semite, and compared comments he made in 2013 to the infamous “Rivers of Blood” speech by Conservative MP Enoch Powell. 

Sacks, who was the UK’s chief rabbi from 1991 to 2013, said Corbyn had “given support to racists, terrorists and dealers of hate who want to kill Jews and remove Israel from the map”.

Corbyn’s 2013 comments, in which he said that a group of Zionists had “no sense of irony” despite “having lived in this country for a very long time” caused outrage among critics and several prominent Labour MPs were deeply critical. 

However, Corbyn said he had used the word Zionist “in the accurate political sense and not as a euphemism for Jewish people”. He also said he was now more careful in how he used the term.

But curiously, in all of the media reports on the story, there was almost no reporting of the chief rabbi’s own political track record. The Guardian described Sacks as having “robust” views on Israeli policies, while The Herald and the BBC didn’t mention anything about his politics, as if he had no political record to speak of, or at least none that was relevant to his comments. 

That’s far from the truth, as CommonSpace can reveal.

1. Sacks once led the extreme-right “March of the Flags” through Palestinian communities 

Described by Hareetz as a “carnival of hatred” which aims to “humiliate Muslims”, Sacks led the extreme right wing March of the Flags protests through Palestinian communities in 2016. 

Reports say that the annual march regularly features chants including, “death to the Arabs” and, “The Jewish temple will be built, the Mosque will be burned down.”

Protesters have also vandalised shops owned by Palestinians, and violent confrontations are a staple of the march. 

2. Advising Mike Pence on the “inflammatory” embassy move

Sacks was heavily criticised for advising Donald Trump’s Vice President Mike Pence on a speech that he would deliver in Israel announcing the controversial relocation of the US embassy to Jerusalem. 

Pence is widely known for his religious zealotry and discriminatory views, including opposing abortion rights for women and LGBT+ rights. 

Internationally, Tel Aviv is recognised as the capital of Israel, but despite international law, Israel insists that Jerusalem is its capital. Commentators on the conflict have said that the US’ support recognition of Jersualem as Israel’s capital have weakened the chances of peace , and Sacks’ advice to Pence on his speech is thought to have contributed to this. 

3. Backing Nentanyahu’s nation state bill – the “final nail in the coffin for Israeli democracy”.

Sacks was a prominent supporter of the Netanyahu government’s so-called “nation-state bill”, which some say say makes Arabs second-class citizens in Israel and is the final nail in the coffin for Israeli democracy.

Adopting the bill, Netanyahu said: “We engraved in the stone of law our language, our anthem, and our flag. We have enshrined the fact that Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people. Long live the State of Israel!”

The law, unlike most other countries in the world, fails to mention the protection of equality or minority rights, despite Israel’s founding Declaration of Independence in 1948 which said the country would ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex. 

Most outside of Netanyahu’s extreme right-wing ruling party rejected the bill, arguing that it would deepen the divide and move the country even further from a peaceful solution.


It is difficult to find any justification for the reporting of Sacks’ comments; in what way does it meet the BBC’s guidelines on fairness and impartiality to explore Jeremy Corbyn’s political track record but not the person that is making the accusation against him? In what world is Sacks’ track record not relevant to his remarks? Reporting of this kind only fuels the view, backed up by academic study, that media reporting of Jeremy Corbyn is excessively negative and unfair in comparison to reporting of other political leaders.

Picture: CommonSpace