British Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, accused by the Jewish community of tolerating anti-Semitism in his party’s ranks, once told Iranian state media that the BBC “has a bias towards saying that… Israel has a right to exist.”
In the 2011 interview with Iran’s PressTV, posted on Twitter Tuesday by the British political blogger The Golem, Corbyn explains that “there’s pressure on the BBC from, probably, [then-BBC director general] Mark Thompson, who seems to me to have an agenda in this respect. There seems to be a great deal of pressure on the BBC from the Israeli government, from the Israeli embassy, and they are very assertive towards all journalists and toward the BBC itself. They challenge every single thing on reporting the whole time.”
That Israeli pressure and bias from the likes of Thompson, Corbyn goes on to say, mean the corporation leans in favor of Israel’s existence.
“I think there is a bias towards saying that Israel is a democracy in the Middle East, Israel has a right to exist, Israel has its security concerns,” he says in the 36-second clip.
The Golem notes in a follow-up tweet that Corbyn’s statements may run afoul of Labour’s own code of conduct on anti-Semitism, which the blogger quotes as saying, “The Party is clear that the Jewish people have the same right to self-determination as any other people. To deny that right is to treat the Jewish people unequally and is therefore a form of antisemitism.”
The comments are only the latest round in a long-running crisis for the party, with a constant stream of members and prominent officials being forced out or chastised for making anti-Semitic and virulent anti-Israel comments, and Corbyn himself criticized for tolerating and/or being part of the problem. The fracas has seen excoriation from rabbis, including Britain’s chief rabbi, as well as from some of Labour’s own MPs charging that the party and its leader seemed unable or unwilling to decisively excise anti-Semitic members and sentiments from its ranks.
A response from a Labour Party spokesperson published by Jewish News, a partner site of The Times of Israel, seemed to double down on Corbyn’s comments.
“Jeremy was arguing that despite the occupation of Palestinian territory and the lack of a Palestinian state, Israeli concerns and perspectives are more likely to appear prominently in news reporting than Palestinian ones,” the spokesperson said. “Jeremy is committed to a comprehensive peace in the Middle East based on a two-state solution – a secure Israel alongside a secure and viable state of Palestine.”
At the same time, “the Israeli government is well known to run an effective and highly professional media operation,” the spokesperson added.
Jewish leaders were quick to respond to the newly surfaced Corbyn comments.
Jennifer Gerber, head of Labour Friends of Israel, slammed the “deplorable remarks,” saying, “not only does Jeremy Corbyn use another appearance on Iranian state TV to engage in further wild conspiracy theories about Israel, he also questions the Jewish state’s right to exist. Is it any wonder he has resisted so hard adopting the full IHRA definition of antisemitism?”
After Labour’s response, Gerber added on Twitter: “The Labour party is now defending Jeremy Corbyn peddling wild conspiracy theories and questioning Israel’s right to exist on Iranian state TV. Let’s be clear: for a party which aspires to be in government, this is not normal behavior.”
Simon Johnson, head of the Jewish Leadership Council, tweeted, “Sorry Mr Corbyn. Do you therefore think that Israel is NOT a democracy, does NOT have a right to exist and does NOT have security concerns? And that an organisation is biased if it DOES believe these things? Wow. That seems to differ somewhat from the policy of the party you lead.”
Also Tuesday, a top Jewish Labour MP charged that party leaders were working to silence criticism within the party over its handling of anti-Semitism accusations.
Margaret Hodge, a former minister in Labour governments, recently underwent a party investigation herself after she called Corbyn “an anti-Semite and a racist” during a parliamentary debate. The probe ended on Monday.
Now she is defending fellow Labour MP Ian Austin, saying the party’s investigation of an alleged confrontation between him and Corbyn-supporting lawmakers in Parliament in mid-July was part of a “new style of politics” consisting of “bullying and intolerance.”
“I have absolutely no doubt that there are those in the [Labour] leadership who want to get rid, whether it is through deselection or disciplinary action, of any opposition. The new style of politics is bullying and intolerance, not gentle and inclusive,” Hodge told The Guardian newspaper.
“Arguing passionately for what you believe in should be encouraged and celebrated, not punished. That’s what Ian was quite properly doing, and trying to close down the issue by disciplining him is tantamount to bullying,” Hodge said.
Austin’s attorneys called the investigation “a farce and a disgrace. It has plainly been designed to silence our client for his legitimate, honestly held criticisms of Mr Corbyn’s failure to address the scourge of antisemitism in the Labour party,” they wrote.
At the heart of Labour’s anti-Semitism crisis is the party’s refusal to adopt in full the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of anti-Semitism, instead leaving out four of the 11 examples included in the definition. All four relate to unfair singling out of Israel or questioning the loyalty of Jews who support Israel.
The party was called to task on the issue Tuesday by the British delegation to the IHRA, saying in a statement published by the Guardian that “any ‘modified’ version of the IHRA definition that does not include all of its 11 examples is no longer the IHRA definition. Adding or removing language undermines the months of international diplomacy and academic rigor that enabled this definition to exist. If one organization or institution can amend the wording to suit its own needs, then logically anyone else could do the same. We would once again revert to a world where antisemitism goes unaddressed simply because different entities cannot agree on what it is.”
The left-leaning British daily also reported Tuesday on the challenges and foot-dragging underway in Labour’s National Executive Council over expelling members who express or facilitate anti-Semitic sentiments in the party.
Of the 70 cases of anti-Semitic expressions by party members sent to the NEC by party officials for consideration, “only a minority were considered by the NEC because of time constraints,” the Guardian says.
The complaints included Labour members who claimed that the Israel lobby had invented the anti-Semitism crisis, or that Hitler’s policy on Zionism “might not be mutually exclusive with his later actions” (i.e., the extermination of Europe’s Jews), among others.
One unnamed Labour source assured the paper that efforts to expel offending members would be sped up in the near future.
“The new code of conduct means we will not have to go to the full NEC disputes committee, but a smaller antisemitism subgroup. It will mean we have the potential to kick people out super fast, instead of waiting months for a full disputes meeting and just getting through 11 of 70.”