UK Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn is an anti-Semite who doesn’t know that he is one, Tony Blair said Monday during a visit to Israel, speaking of the “shameful” anti-Semitism scandal that has engulfed the opposition party.
Blair, a former prime minister and long-time leader of Labour, said he no longer recognizes the party he led from 1994 until 2007.
“To be frank, this anti-Semitism row, it’s a shameful thing,” said Blair, who was interviewed at a panel event at Bar Ilan University just outside Tel Aviv.
“If you told me, not merely back in May 1997, but at any point in the next 10 years, that the party I led for 13 years would have a problem with anti-Semitism, I would literally not have credited it, or believed it, and yet it is, and it’s there today,” said Blair.
Jewish groups have accused Corbyn, a far-left politician, of allowing a massive surge in anti-Semitism within the ranks of the party that was once considered the natural home of British Jewry. Thousands of cases of alleged hate speech against Jews have been recorded within Labour since 2015, when Corbyn was elected to lead the party.
The UK’s Equality and Human Rights Commission, a racism watchdog, announced last week it had launched a formal investigation into allegations of anti-Semitism in Labour.
“When I established [the EHRC], I never dreamed it would be investigating the Labour party,” Blair said.
Asked if he believed Corbyn himself was anti-Semitic, Blair said yes.
“Some of the remarks are not explicable in any other way, I’m afraid, and that is sad,” said Blair. “Does he think he is? No, he doesn’t think he is at all.”
The Board of Deputies of British Jews has accused Corbyn of encouraging anti-Semitic rhetoric and at times engaging in it, though he disputes the claim.
Corbyn has vowed to punish any party member caught making racist statements, yet he has defended a number of members who made vitriolic anti-Semitic remarks, and has expelled hardly any members despite more than 850 formal complaints. Last month he admitted in a secret recording that evidence of racism against Jews in his party may have been “mislaid, ignored or not used.”
Corbyn himself has drawn criticism for his actions. Last year he expressed regret for having defended a 2012 anti-Semitic mural in London’s East End. The mural, named Freedom of Humanity, was painted on a property near Brick Lane by the Los Angeles-based graffiti artist Kalen Ockerman. It depicted a group of men — seemingly caricatures of Jewish bankers and businessmen — counting their money on a Monopoly board balanced on the backs of naked workers.
In April, Corbyn was found to have authored a glowing foreword to a book that claims that Jews control global financial systems and describes them as “men of a single and peculiar race.”
In addition, the Hamas terror group has thanked Corbyn for his solidarity in recognizing Palestinian mourning over the 71st anniversary of the formation of the State of Israel.
The Labour leader has in the past been criticized for calling terror groups Hamas and Hezbollah “friends” when inviting members for a parliamentary meeting in 2009. He later downplayed the comment and said he regretted using the term.
Last year it emerged that in 2014 Corbyn attended a ceremony that honored the terrorists behind the 1972 Munich Olympic massacre. He later said, “I was present when [a wreath] was laid, I don’t think I was actually involved in it.”
Blair said the party would fail to survive if it did not adequately confront anti-Semitism in its ranks.
“For the Labour party in Britain this is a huge challenge. It’s got to rise to the challenge and it’s got to defeat this anti-Semitism, and if it doesn’t it will imperil the Labour party,” he said.
Blair declined to say if he would vote for Labour in the next elections under Corbyn.
But Blair also said the anti-Semitism problem was not just in Labour.
“The question is what do we do about it now,” continued Blair, who said he has been urging urgent action to fight anti-Semitism, not only in the UK, but also in Europe and in the US.
“Anti-Semitism is something you must confront immediately when you see it,” he said, noting that the current resurgence came from both the left and the right.
Blair also said that while criticism of Israel was legitimate, there were many instances where it was “so lopsided and disproportionate the only conclusion is that it comes from anti-Semitism.”
Blair also served as the Special Envoy of the Quartet on the Middle East from 2007 until 2015.