LONDON: Around 500 Jewish protesters gathered outside Britain's parliament on Monday accusing opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn of allowing anti-Semitism to spread in his party.
Demonstrators at the Board of Deputies of British Jews (BOD) event were met with counter-protests by Jewish Corbyn supporters, leading to heated exchanges and minor physical confrontations.
Members of the main protest shouted "shame on you" and "scum" at the group of around 50 Corbyn supporters, who claim that the accusations of anti-Semitism against their leader are politically motivated.
BOD President Jonathan Arkush led a chant of "enough is enough" as he demanded Corbyn take a firm stance against those accused of anti-Semitism in the party.
"Jeremy Corbyn has failed to take meaningful action, creating space for racists," he told the crowd.
"Jewish people are deserting the party, it's not good enough."
An open letter from the BOD and the Jewish Leadership Council earlier accused the veteran leftist siding with anti-Semites "again and again".
The letter said Corbyn was "repeatedly found alongside people with blatantly anti-Semitic views" but "claims never to hear or read them".
Protester Richard Galber, 67, said that he didn't think Corbyn was an anti-Semite but that "there is an element of anti-Jewish sentiment that's running though the country and, pity as it is, Corbyn has come to represent that.
"Too many people that he associates with are anti-Semites," he told AFP.
Counter-protester Patricia Sheerin said that she had come to support Corbyn "against the attacks that have been levelled against him by certain Zionist groups with links to far-right organisations."
She accused them of deliberately "blurring the lines" between anti-Semitism and criticism of Israel in order to "damage" Corbyn.
The letter, set to be delivered to a group of Labour lawmakers, said the Labour leader "cannot seriously contemplate anti-Semitism, because he is so ideologically fixed within a far-left worldview that is instinctively hostile to mainstream Jewish communities.
"Corbyn did not invent this form of politics, but he has had a lifetime within it, and now personifies its problems and dangers."
- Far left's 'obsessive hatred' -
The final straw that triggered the protest was a Facebook comment from 2012 that recently came to light.
Corbyn had offered support to a street artist whose mural in east London depicting bankers playing Monopoly on the backs of the poor was about to be swiftly removed.
Labour deputy leader Tom Watson on Sunday branded the image a "horrible anti-Semitic mural that was rightly taken down".
The British Jewish leaders' letter said: "When Jews complain about an obviously anti-Semitic mural in Tower Hamlets, Corbyn of course supports the artist.
"Hezbollah commits terrorist atrocities against Jews, but Corbyn calls them his friends and attends pro-Hezbollah rallies in London. Exactly the same goes for Hamas.
"Raed Salah says Jews kill Christian children to drink their blood. Corbyn opposes his extradition and invites him for tea," it said, referring to the firebrand cleric who heads the Islamic Movement in Israel.
"At best, this derives from the far left's obsessive hatred of Zionism, Zionists and Israel.
"At worst, it suggests a conspiratorial worldview in which mainstream Jewish communities are believed to be a hostile entity."
The letter claimed a "repeated institutional failure" within Labour to tackle anti-Semitism and there was "literally not a single day" in which Labour spaces, either online or in meetings, did not repeat "slanders against Jews".
Corbyn said he would meet Jewish community representatives in the coming days to rebuild its confidence in his party.
"Anti-Semitism has occurred in pockets within the Labour Party, causing pain and hurt to our Jewish community in the Labour Party and the rest of the country," he said.