The UK Labour Party’s new far-left leader, Jeremy Corbyn — whose overtures to radical Islamists and anti-Israel sentiments have caused concern among British Jews — is reportedly considering appointing a “minister for Jews” as a go-between to work with the party and the community to build bridges and encourage dialogue.
According to British Jewish newspaper The Jewish Chronicle, “rumors” of such a measure were emanating from the Corbyn camp for the past 48 hours. According to the report, a “minister for Muslims” could also be in the offing.
The relationship between Corbyn and the British Jewish community has been fraught with tensions and it is not clear if such a proposal could work or who would lead it.
British Jews have repeatedly expressed alarm over what they say are Corbyn’s dubious ties to Holocaust deniers and pro-Palestinian figures who have espoused anti-Semitic views.
Empathetic to Hamas and Hezbollah, Corbyn, who won the Labour leadership by a landslide Saturday, is also widely regarded as one of the British MPs most hostile to Israel.
In an interview with the anti-Israel site Electronic Intifada late month, Corbyn said he would impose an arms embargo on Israel should he become prime minister and asserted that Israeli universities involved in arms research should be boycotted.
“I think we have to push robustly for the limitation of arms supplies [to Israel],” Corbyn said.
“Israel is after all facing an investigation … for war crimes, [at the International Criminal Court] as indeed are the Hamas forces on a much different or lesser scale,” Corbyn said. “I think we should be very cautious about supplying arms in those circumstances.”
He also advocated for the right of return for Palestinian refugees, saying it was a “key” element in any peace process,
“Whether they want to return or not is another matter. The rights have to be there,” he said during the interview.
“The three areas of Palestine that have got to be addressed are: one, settlements and occupation of the West Bank; two, the siege of Gaza and three, the issue of now fourth-generation refugees living in camps in Lebanon and some still in Syria. They deserve their rights too, they deserve their right to return home,” Corbyn said.
The new Labour leader also reiterated his belief that Palestinian terror group Hamas and Lebanese terror group Hezbollah — both sworn to Israel’s destruction — were key negotiating partners
“There has to be talks, there has to be negotiations with all the Palestinian forces, as well as with all the Israeli forces,” he said. “That means talking to Hamas, it means talking to Hezbollah – does it mean you agree with what they say on social issues, on the death penalty? No it doesn’t, and you can make that very clear to them in the discussion.”
“But the reality is they do represent a very large sway of Palestinian opinion – if you don’t involve them you’re not going to get a deal,” he went on.
UK Jews express ‘serious concern’
Last month, the Jewish Chronicle claimed that Corbyn, who has ties to the Socialist Campaign Group, Amnesty International and the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, was linked to “Holocaust deniers, terrorists and some outright anti-Semites.”
“We are certain that we speak for the vast majority of British Jews in expressing deep foreboding at the prospect of Mr. Corbyn’s election as Labour leader,” the newspaper editorialized.
A senior Jewish member of the Labour Party said in August that Corbyn’s views are cause for “serious concern.”
Ivan Lewis, the shadow, or minority, party cabinet minister who is also a former chief executive of the Manchester Jewish Federation, urged his party not to vote for Corbyn.
“Some of [Corbyn’s] stated political views are a cause for serious concern,” Lewis said in letter to his local party members on Friday, according to the Guardian. “At the very least he has shown very poor judgment in expressing support for and failing to speak out against people who have engaged not in legitimate criticism of Israeli governments but in anti-Semitic rhetoric.”
Corbyn has hit back at some of criticism for his associations.
Calling Holocaust denial “vile and wrong,” Corbyn said a pro-Palestinian activist he donated money to had not publicly denied the Holocaust at the time of their meeting 15 years ago. Regarding ties to Israeli Islamist Raed Salah, he said the sheikh had not espoused anti-Semitic views at the time of their meeting.
A turn to the far left
Corbyn won the Labor leadership Saturday by a clear majority of 59.5 percent, overwhelmingly beating out his three younger and more centrist opponents, and negating the need for a second round of voting.
“Yes we did!” chanted his supporters as the new leader took the stage at a special party conference in London.
In his victory speech, Corbyn called for a “decent and better society” and urged party unity. He hailed “our party and our movement, passionate, democratic, diverse, united and absolutely determined in our quest for a decent and better society that is possible for all.”
He also condemned “grotesque levels of inequality” and “an unfair welfare system” and called for the Conservative government to show more “compassion” in dealing with the Syrian refugee crisis, saying he would attend a demonstration planned in London later Saturday.
Corbyn said Labour was “united and absolutely determined in our quest for a decent and better society that is possible for all.”
When Ed Miliband resigned as Labour head following its catastrophic defeat in the May 7 general election, the loudest critics were allies of former prime minister Tony Blair, who blamed the party’s leftward turn and called for a return to Blair’s centrist platform.
Now, only four months later, Labour has elected its leftmost member: the British equivalent of Alexis Tsipras, Greece’s former prime minister and head of the radical left-wing Syriza.
An heir to Tony Benn and Michael Foot, Corbyn made a name for himself in the 1980s as a rebellious pacifist and now advocates the renationalization of the railways and energy sectors, the re-opening of coal mines and an immediate end to austerity.
Many within the party believe it will be impossible to win the 2020 general election from Corbyn’s leftist platform, with former leader Blair warning the party was on “the trajectory to becoming a pressure group.”
Some already predict the party will have a different leader by 2020.