UK Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn on Friday defended allegedly anti-Semitic comments he made in 2013 that “Zionists” do not grasp “English irony” despite often having lived in Britain for years, denying he was referring generally to Jewish people.
Corbyn, who was already under fire over a number of recently surfaced remarks critical of Israel and his handling of anti-Semitism in Labour, faced fresh criticism after the Daily Mail published a video Thursday of a speech he made five years ago in which he also suggested “Zionists” do not know history.
In a statement quoted by The Guardian, Corbyn contended he used the term Zionists “in the accurate political sense and not as a euphemism for Jewish people.”
“I am now more careful with how I might use the term ‘Zionist’ because a once self-identifying political term has been increasingly hijacked by anti-Semites as code for Jews,” he said.
Corbyn also said his remarks were in defense of the Palestinian Authority’s ambassador to the United Kingdom “in the face of what I thought were deliberate misrepresentations by people for whom English was a first language, when it isn’t for the ambassador.”
In the video from 2013, Corbyn told attendees at a London conference that “Zionists … clearly have two problems. One is they don’t want to study history, and secondly, having lived in this country for a very long time, probably all their lives, they don’t understand English irony either. They needed two lessons, which we could perhaps help them with.”
The conference, which was promoted on the Hamas terror organization’s English-language website, featured several controversial speakers, including one who advocated boycotting Holocaust Memorial Day and another who blamed Israel for the 9/11 terror attacks in New York.
Garda Kharmi, who also addressed the conference, was quoted by the Daily Mail as having said in a 2017 lecture that “the Jews were not wanted in Europe” and that they were “an unpopular, unloved people who were off-loaded into the [Middle East].”
Corbyn’s comments in the video were met with a backlash from a number of Labour MPs and Jewish figures, with the editor of the Jewish Chronicle saying “it’s almost impossible to read this as anything other than a reference to Jews.”
In a piece published Friday titled “I gave Corbyn the benefit of the doubt on antisemitism. I can’t any more,” leading Guardian feature writer Simon Hattenstone wrote that the Labour leader’s remarks were “unquestionably anti-Semitic” and noted that they would be in violation of the party’s own recently adopted definition of anti-Semitism.
Last month, Labour pointedly decided not to adopt parts of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of anti-Semitism that related to Israel, a move that was met with anger from Jewish groups and the country’s chief rabbi.
Also Thursday, the Israel Advocacy Movement tweeted footage of Corbyn accusing Israel of genocide during a 2014 rally, as a Hamas flag waved behind him.
“This is an occupation, this is a genocidal attack on Palestinian people,” Corbyn shouted to protesters near the Israeli embassy in London, during that year’s war between Israel and Hamas terrorists in Gaza.
Corbyn infamously called the terror group “friends” prior to his election as Labour leader, a statement he later walked back.
Labour officials told the Daily Mail Corbyn was not responsible for flags waved by others, and said he was speaking of the “asymmetrical nature” of the conflict.
Jeremy Corbyn stands in front of a Hamas flag at an anti-Israel rally and makes the outrageous claim of an Israeli genocide against Palestinians. pic.twitter.com/psXab3AWAi
— Israel Advocacy Movement (@israel_advocacy) August 23, 2018
Earlier this week it emerged that Corbyn’s longtime secretary had urged Labor supporters to oppose candidates who appeared in the Jewish media. In a pamphlet published by the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign in 2010, Nicolette Petersen recommended that Labour supporters “read the Jewish Chronicle online and look at websites that will show you who not to vote for,” asserting that it was better to divert support from Labour than to support anyone considering himself a “friend of Israel,” according to The Sun on Monday.
The incident is the latest of a string of revelations detailing Corbyn’s antipathy for the Jewish state and highlights the widening gap between the British left and the country’s Jewish community.
On Tuesday, Israel’s i24News reported that Corbyn had called Israeli opposition leader Tzipi Livni a “war criminal” during a 2010 visit to the Gaza Strip. Writing for the Morning Star, a communist newspaper, he said that “any plans by the British government to curtail the opportunity to arrest” the former Israeli foreign minister would be “seen as yet another confirmation of British duplicity in the treatment of Palestinian people.”
That revelation came a day after it emerged that Corbyn, already facing scrutiny over his contacts with various Palestinian terrorist groups, hosted a 2012 panel featuring a number of senior members of Hamas, the terrorist organization that controls Gaza.
Corbyn appeared beside several individuals who had been convicted of murder and had been freed the previous year in a prisoner swap.
Among those who appeared with Corbyn were Khaled Mashaal, who at the time was Hamas’s political chief, and Husam Badran, the erstwhile head of the group’s military wing who had overseen a series of bombings that killed dozens of Israeli civilians, including the 2001 attacks on the Sbarro pizzeria in Jerusalem and the Dolphinarium disco in Tel Aviv. Alongside Mashaal and Badran was Abdul Aziz Umar, who was responsible for the 2003 Cafe Hillel bombing in Jerusalem.
Corbyn said during the panel that “their contribution was fascinating and electrifying” despite the fact that the participants appeared to advocate violent attacks against Israel. Badran was filmed at the event saying that the Palestinians had been displaced by force and that “the return will only be viable through military and armed resistance and nothing else.”
In a piece earlier this week, Times of Israel editor David Horovitz detailed Corbyn’s years of activism on behalf of a Labour movement that sought to “eradicate Zionism” and replace Israel with a secular Palestinian state, and branded Corbyn “an anti-Semite and a racist.” Horovitz wrote that Labour, if it wants to root out anti-Semitism, must expel Corbyn.
JTA contributed to this report.