Chief Rabbi and Jewish community leader decry ‘harmful’ celebrity antisemitism

The Chief Rabbi and a prominent Jewish community leader have called out “harmful” and “damaging” antisemitic comments made by celebrities as they are honoured in the New Year Honours list.

Ephraim Mirvis, who will receive a knighthood, said people “shouldn’t be silent” in the wake of discriminatory comments from high-profile figures.

Meanwhile, Marie van der Zyl, Board of Deputies of British Jews president, who will be made an OBE, said remarks from celebrities are “very damaging” to the Jewish community.

It comes after entertainment figures like British rapper Wiley, US rapper Kanye West and actress Whoopi Goldberg faced accusations of antisemitism over remarks said in the media and over social media in recent years.

Sir Ephraim, who said he is “enormously honoured and deeply humbled” to be recognised, told the PA news agency global antisemitism is “on the rise”.

He said: “There is a great need for prevention of such incidents, and also protection and education is right at the core of what is needed to educate people about others and about the importance of reaching out to others, and of loving all people created in the image of God.”

Asked about the impact of celebrities like West, Sir Ephraim said: “Comments and actions by high-profile figures do make a very significant mark and we shouldn’t be silent in the wake of such comments and actions.

“It is most disappointing and saddening when high-profile characters are guilty of antisemitism.

Marie van der Zyl, director of the Board of Deputies of British Jews (Maria van der Zyl/PA)
Marie van der Zyl, director of the Board of Deputies of British Jews (Maria van der Zyl/PA)

“Fortunately, the overwhelming majority of people within our society is not antisemitic and does not wish to accept that kind of conduct.”

Sir Ephraim said it is “very important” to remain vigilant in education and Holocaust education.

The Chief Rabbi said UK governments and national authorities take antisemitism seriously and “not just a threat against the Jews” but as “a threat against all of our society”.

Mrs van der Zyl, who said she is “shocked” to be made an OBE, also addressed celebrity antisemitism.

She told PA: “I think comments by people like Whoopi Goldberg (and) the rapper Wiley, who went on a rant for three days… it is very, very damaging for the Jewish community.

“And I think celebrities should aspire to be role models against all forms of hate and prejudice and they have a huge amount of influence. These situations are very damaging.”

Mrs van der Zyl added that a “huge amount of support” follows these incidents before adding that the UK is a “wonderful place to live”.

“I look all around the world at other countries and how Jews are treated; there is so much that is positive here and we have a very healthy Jewish life in this country.

“We have to think positive as well. Antisemitism is something that will always be here and we have to manage.”

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Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis has been knighted (PA)

Both the Chief Rabbi and Mrs van der Zyl also praised Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer as they spoke about how the party is tackling antisemitism.

Sir Ephraim said: “Upon becoming the leader of the Labour party, Sir Keir Starmer correctly made it clear that what would be necessary would not be talk but rather action with regard to antisemitism, and that is something which he and his party have been doing, which is something I appreciate enormously.

“They are still on a journey and there is still more to be done but we do appreciate the significant strides that have been taken and the achievements made by Keir Starmer as leader.”

Mrs van der Zyl said: “I think the leadership of the Labour party have made huge, huge inroads into dealing with antisemitism and I do commend Keir Starmer. I think he’s a very very sincere man.

“But it’s a journey. As a question of changing the culture, I think this takes a long time and I think it’s far from over.”