British Labour Party apologizes for incendiary Corbyn remarks

UK opposition leader implied parallel between Israel and Islamic State, prompting outrage in Israel

Britain's Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn makes a speech at Savoy Place, London, June 25, 2016. (Stefan Rousseau/PA via AP)
Britain's Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn makes a speech at Savoy Place, London, June 25, 2016. (Stefan Rousseau/PA via AP)

Israeli officials say the UK Labour Party has apologized to the Israeli ambassador in London after comments made by party leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Corbyn spoke Thursday at the launch of a report examining anti-Semitism inside the party. In his remarks, he provoked outrage by implying a comparison between Israel and the Islamic State terror group.

“Our Jewish friends are no more responsible for the actions of Israel or the Netanyahu government than our Muslim friends are for those various self-styled Islamic states or organizations,” Corbyn said.

Israeli Embassy spokesman Yiftah Curiel said Friday that Labour foreign policy adviser Emily Thornberry had apologized for the remarks.

“Ambassador Mark Regev welcomed Emily Thornberry’s unequivocal apology following Jeremy Corbyn’s unacceptable remarks,” he said.

Israel's Ambassador to the UK Mark Regev, interviewed by the BBC on May 1, 2016 (BBC screenshot)
Israeli Ambassador to the UK Mark Regev (BBC screenshot)

Britain’s chief rabbi called the remarks offensive. Corbyn said later he was not trying to equate the Israeli government and Islamic State.

Corbyn set up the independent inquiry after several Labour Party officials were suspended for making anti-Semitic comments.

Corbyn was responding to the report, which concluded that while in the Labour Party there is an “occasionally toxic atmosphere,” it is “not overrun by anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, or other forms of racism.”

Speaking to a crowd of Labour party activists and journalists, Corbyn also said the party must not tolerate any form of racism.

“Modern anti-Semitism may not always be about overt violence and persecution, though there is too much of that even to this day. We must also be vigilant against subtler and invidious manifestations of this nasty ancient hatred and avoid slipping into its traps by accident or intent,” Corbyn said.

Asked after his speech if he was directly comparing Israel to Islamic State, Corbyn said, “Of course I’m not.”

Opposition leader Isaac Herzog on April 12, 2016 (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

His comments, however, were immediately met with anger by some within the Labour Party.

Labour councilor Sam Stopp, who represents the London district of Wembley, called for Corbyn to resign over his comments.

In Israel, Labor opposition leader Isaac Herzog “the comparison is shocking, unacceptable and a betrayal of the values that the Labor movement represents around the world.”

Added Herzog: “Corbyn represents a position of consistent hatred of Israel.”

Centrist Yesh Atid party leader MK Yair Lapid urged Israel’s Labor Party to break all ties with Corbyn’s Labour in the wake of the remarks.

“It is unacceptable that on such a difficult day for the State of Israel, when an innocent young girl was murdered in a terror attack by an evil terrorist just because she was a Jew, the leader of the opposition in the UK compares Israel and ISIS, made worse by being at the launch of a report on anti-Semitism in his own party,” Lapid said in a statement.

Yesh Atid party chairman, Yair Lapid, speaks during a faction meeting at the Knesset, June 27, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Yesh Atid party chairman, Yair Lapid, speaks during a faction meeting at the Knesset, June 27, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Lapid added: “It is an infuriating comparison which is evidence of his ignorance. It is pure anti-Semitism. The State of Israel is governed by democratic values, morality and justice and fights every day against terror organizations which are sworn to the murder of innocents. I call upon the Labor Party in Israel to cut all ties with their counterpart in the UK until the leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, is replaced.”

The report into anti-Semitism within the Labour Party comes after the recent suspension of a number of activists and officials for comments made on social media, and accusations of a weak response by party leadership to anti-Israel and anti-Semitic sentiments.

Shami Chakrabarti, the former head of civil rights group Liberty, led the inquiry, which consulted with the Jewish community and examines ways to tackle anti-Semitism and discrimination. Labour peer Baroness Royall and Pears Institute of Anti-Semitism director Professor David Feldman were vice chairs of the panel.

The 30-page document lays out 20 recommendations to enable the party to “lead by example.”

Chakrabarti said Labour members “should resist the use of Hitler, Nazi and Holocaust metaphors, distortions and comparisons in debates about Israel-Palestine in particular,” but recommended against imposing life bans on those who do.

A controversy exploded in June when Labour MP Naz Shah was suspended by the party pending an investigation into allegations that she shared anti-Semitic posts on social media before being elected.

Defending Shah in a series of interviews, Labour party veteran Ken Livingstone said that criticism of Israel’s policies was being confused with anti-Semitism, and claimed that Zionism was initially supported by Hitler.

This file photo taken on September 26, 2011 shows former mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, as he attends the second day of the annual Labour Party conference in Liverpool, north-west England. (AFP/Ben Stansall)
Former mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, in 2011 (AFP/Ben Stansall)

“When Hitler won his election in 1932, his policy then was that Jews should be moved to Israel. He was supporting Zionism before he went mad and ended up killing six million Jews,” he said. Livingstone has since repeatedly stood by the assertion that Hitler supported Zionism for a time.

Corbyn has been criticized in the past for referring to Lebanon’s powerful Shiite terror group Hezbollah as “friends” and urging dialogue with the Hamas Islamist terrorist group, as well as meeting representatives of both organizations.

In February, Labour launched an investigation into its Oxford University student branch after the chairman stepped down complaining that many members “have some kind of problem with Jews.”

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