British Prime Minister David Cameron publicly demanded Wednesday that opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn, who heads a Labour party currently battling repeated accusations of anti-Semitism among its ranks, renounce his declared friendship with Palestinian terror group Hamas and Lebanese organization Hezbollah, both sworn to Israel’s destruction.
The heated confrontation between the two party leaders took place during Prime Minister’s Questions, a weekly session in the House of Commons in which the premier takes questions from MPs. Cameron repeatedly returned to the ongoing storm over anti-Semitism in Labour, and demanded clarification from Corbyn about the two terror groups, revisiting a comment Corbyn made during his time as a backbench MP when he invited “our friends” from Hamas and Hezbollah to speak at an event in Parliament.
“He referred to Hamas and Hezbollah as his friends. He needs to withdraw that remark,” Cameron said of the opposition leader sitting across the chamber from him.
“Are they your friends or are they not? Because these organizations in their constitutions believe in persecuting and killing Jews… not only in Israel but around the world,” the prime minister continued. “They are anti-Semitic organizations, they are racist organizations.”
“He must stand up and say they are not his friends.”
Corbyn, in response, denounced anti-Semitism, and later said his comments about Hamas and Hezbollah were “not an approval” of those two organizations.
“Obviously, anyone who commits racist acts or is anti-Semitic is not a friend of mine,” he said. “I am very clear about that.”
While the exchange between Cameron and Corbyn covered various policy issues, the prime minister took the opportunity in his responses on other subjects to return to the matter of Labour members making anti-Semitic, racist, and anti-Israel comments on social media, as well as demanding clarification about Hamas and Hezbollah.
Speaking at a May Day event on Sunday, Corbyn had rebuffed calls to denounce contacts with terror groups Hamas and Hezbollah, while repeating his declaration that the Labour Party is against anti-Semitism.
But as Labour attempted to push back against efforts to label it anti-Semitic, it also came under fire for Corbyn’s past contacts with Hamas and Hezbollah.
A statement from Corbyn’s spokesperson said he would continue to engage such groups, while denying that doing so was tantamount to an endorsement.
Earlier Wednesday, Labour suspended two more councilors — Miqdad Al-Nuaimi from Newport and Renfrewshire’s Terry Kelly. Al-Nuami posted tweets comparing Israel to the Nazis. Kelly made anti-Semitic reference to a “Jewish lobby” in the US, which he said tried to influence foreign policy and the Oscars.
Wednesday’s parliamentary exchange came a day after the British media reported that the Labour party “secretly suspended” 50 of its members for anti-Semitic and racist comments. That report came as Corbyn conceded for the first time Monday that the party does have a problem with anti-Jewish sentiment, but insisted that it is “not a huge problem.”
A string of Labour politicians have been publicly suspended recently for making anti-Semitic remarks, among them former London mayor and close Corbyn ally Ken Livingstone, who said Thursday that Hitler supported Zionism before he “went mad and ended up killing 6 million Jews.”
Livingstone’s comments caused a firestorm, prompting historians to come out and correct Livingstone’s warped version of history.
Livingstone, who has refused to apologize for the comments on Zionism and Hitler, was defending party MP Naz Shah, who was suspended a day earlier for her own 2014 Facebook post calling for Israel to be dismantled. On Monday, a further three party politicians were suspended for anti-Semitic and anti-Israel remarks.
Shah on Tuesday stepped down from a Home Affairs Select committee charged with an inquiry into the rise of anti-Semitism in the UK.
According to Britain’s Telegraph newspaper, the public suspensions “are said to be just the tip of the iceberg.”
Times of Israel staff and agencies contributed to this report.