The official announcement of the UK Labour Party’s investigation of anti-Semitism within its ranks was marred Thursday when party leader Jeremy Corbyn made a speech comparing Israel to ISIS, shortly before a Jewish member of parliament was heckled and accused of being part of a media conspiracy.
“Our Jewish friends are no more responsible for the actions of Israel or the Netanyahu government than our Muslim friends are for the self-styled Islamic State,”said Corbyn, who lost a no-confidence vote from Labour Party MPs 172-40 on Tuesday but has refused to resign. He later tried to walk back his statement (which was in his prepared remarks), saying “of course I’m not” comparing the two. A Corbyn spokesman told The Independent that Corbyn meant that “people should not be held responsible for the actions of states or organizations around the world on the basis of religion or ethnicity.”
Corbyn was strongly denounced by Jewish and Israeli leaders. Lord Jonathan Sacks, the former Chief Rabbi, tweeted that the comparison between Israel and ISIS was “demonetization of the highest order, an outrage and unacceptable.”
Israeli opposition leader Isaac Herzog, the head of the Israeli Labor Party, also had strong criticisms for the head of his party’s British affiliate:
Corbyn's suggestion of moral equivalence between Israel and ISIS is outrageous, unacceptable, and a betrayal of global Labour values>>
— יצחק הרצוג (@HerzogMK) June 30, 2016
Corbyn's views represent a consistent hatred of Israel. Like the notorious Ernest Bevin failed, so too will Jeremy Corbyn.
— יצחק הרצוג (@HerzogMK) June 30, 2016
“Jeremy Corbyn’s comment at the press conference, which paralleled Israel and Islamic State, makes me wonder whether he, at least, has learned anything at all from the inquiry,” said Rabbi Danny Rich, the leader of the Liberal Judaism denomination.
After Corbyn’s speech, Marc Wadsworth, an activist with Corbyn’s political pressure group Momentum, verbally attacked Jewish MP Ruth Smeeth in front of Corbyn. The Independent reported:
Witnesses said the campaigner accused the Labour MP for Stoke-on-Trent North and Kidsgrove of “colluding” with the right-wing media, after refusing to hand a leaflet to Ms Smeeth and taking down her name.
Ms Smeeth said she was “verbally attacked” and accused of being part of a media conspiracy.
Smeeth then reportedly left the room in tears.
“It is beyond belief that someone could come to the launch of a report on antisemitism in the Labour Party and espouse such vile conspiracy theories about Jewish people, which were ironically highlighted as such in [the] report, while the leader of my own party stood by and did absolutely nothing,” she said in a statement.
People like this have no place in our party or our movement and must be opposed. Until today I had made no public comment about Jeremy’s ability to lead our party, but the fact that he failed to intervene is final proof for me that he is unfit to lead, and that a Labour Party under his stewardship cannot be a safe space for British Jews. I have written to the General Secretary of the Labour Party and the Chair of the Parliamentary Labour Party to formally complain about this morning’s events.
No-one from the Leader’s office has contacted me since the event, which is itself a catastrophic failure of leadership. I call on Jeremy Corbyn to resign immediately and make way for someone with the backbone to confront racism and antisemitism in our party and in the country.
Labour MP Wes Streeting told The Daily Mail that he left the event feeling “disgusted.” “To stand by silently while a Jewish Labour MP is abused by a Momentum activist, accusing her of collaborating with the Telegraph—it was repulsive,” Streeting said. “I don’t think Jeremy Corbyn could have done any more harm this morning that he did if he tried.”
— Anna Turley MP (@annaturley) June 30, 2016
The party’s report said that Labour members “should resist the use of Hitler, Nazi and Holocaust metaphors, distortions and comparisons in debates about Israel-Palestine in particular.” Former London mayor Ken Livingstone was suspended from the Labour Party two months ago after repeatedly claiming that Adolf Hitler was a Zionist.
The report also said that anti-Semitic slurs like “Zio,” which Jewish members of the Oxford University Labour Club were subjected to, is an unacceptable slur. The party’s investigation into anti-Semitism at its Oxford affiliate, scheduled to be published last month, was largely suppressed on the grounds that it would be rolled into the full report, but the scandal was not referenced at all.
For more on Corbyn’s history of anti-Israel activism and association with anti-Semites, read Western Europe’s Most Powerful Anti-Zionist, a profile of Corbyn written by Liam Hoare for the October 2015 issue of The Tower Magazine.
I do not believe that Jeremy Corbyn is an anti-Semite—although, at the very least, the sheer number of anti-Semitic individuals and organizations with whom he is connected calls his moral judgment into question. His associations show him to have been a bloody fool, an ignorant dope, or someone with a malevolent streak and a rotten core. I do not believe that he will ever be Prime Minister, which, in a sense, limits the damage he can do; damage to community relations between Jews and Muslims, the legitimacy of Israel in British public opinion, or to British foreign policy in the Middle East and elsewhere.
Nevertheless, I cannot suppress my fear that Corbyn’s victory represents the final decoupling of Labour from both Israel and the mainstream of the British Jewish community. It may now be a relationship beyond repair. I worry that Corbyn, unable to see anti-Semitism on the Left or the correlation between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism, unable to even say the word “Israel” at a Labour Friends of Israel meeting, will not take Jewish concerns seriously; concerns not just over the British political climate regarding Israel, but over security for Jewish individuals and institutions.
[Photo: Guardian Wires / YouTube]