Israel’s new ambassador to the United Kingdom on Sunday said parts of Britain’s left are “in denial” about the “disease” of anti-Semitism.
Speaking to The Sunday Times, Mark Regev addressed a rising tide of anti-Semitic outbursts by Labour party members, including most recently Ken Livingstone, who was suspended from the party on Thursday for declaring and continuing to insist that Adolf Hitler was initially a Zionist.
“I have no doubt that part of the left is in denial. They say ‘anti-Semitism, that’s the right, that’s the fascists.’ That’s a cop-out. It doesn’t stand up to serious historical examination,” Regev said in the interview, which ran on the newspaper’s front page.
“Anti-Semitism should concern everyone. When it does raise its ugly head, it should be condemned across the board. And failure to condemn has to be in itself condemned,” the Israeli envoy added, in remarks that the British paper said would likely be interpreted as an attack on Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.
Corbyn called on Friday for an independent inquiry into anti-Semitism and racism within the Labour party, after initially denying there was a problem. This came a day after former mayor and veteran Labour politician Livingstone said Hitler was a supporter of Zionism before he “went mad” and killed six million Jews during World War II.
Israel’s Labor chief, Isaac Herzog, on Saturday called Livingstone’s remarks “repulsive,” and offered to show UK Labour leaders around the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial museum to remind them of “the painful realities that they have perhaps forgotten, but we remember every day.”
“If someone wouldn’t dream of sharing a platform with an anti-black racist or an anti-female sexist, shouldn’t one be equally concerned about sharing a platform with an anti-Jewish racist?” asked Regev.
Regev also praised British Prime Minister David Cameron for his “outspoken and unequivocal” denunciations of anti-Jewish hatred. “That’s leadership,” he said.
Livingstone’s comments have sparked an ongoing uproar, prompting his suspension from the party and the condemnation of a large number of Labour MPs, some of whom called for him to be expelled.
Labour MP John Mann, who was among the first to condemn his colleague, calling him a “Nazi apologist,” said Saturday the Labour party has “no reason to exist” if it fails to denounce and shake off anti-Semitism.
“Hitler started with the Jews, as others have done in persecutions throughout history. But it never ends with the Jews,” wrote Mann in an op-ed in The Mirror.
“That is why Labour has always prided itself in upholding the rights of the Jewish people and has always been the Party that never tolerates anti-Semitism.
“If we cannot do that now, then we have no reason to exist,” he wrote.
Meanwhile, the Labour candidate for London mayor, who has also condemned Livingstone, conceded the controversy could prevent him from becoming the city’s first Muslim mayor in next week’s election.
“I accept that the comments that Ken Livingstone has made make it more difficult for Londoners of Jewish faith to feel that the Labour party is a place for them, and so I will carry on doing what I have always been doing, which is to speak for everyone. If I should have the privilege to be the mayor I will show Londoners the sort of mayor I can be,” Sadiq Khan said, according to The Observer.
After doubling down on his comments Friday, Livingstone on Saturday further refused to apologize directly and defended his comments by charging that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu essentially said the same thing several months ago.
“How can I have hurt and offended the Jewish community when the prime minister of Israel said exactly the same thing?” Livingstone said in an interview with LBC radio station. He cited comments made by Netanyahu last October suggesting that Hitler had not initially intended to annihilate the Jews, only expel them from Europe, and that the idea of extermination came from Jerusalem’s then-grand mufti, Haj Amin al-Husseini, a Palestinian nationalist widely acknowledged as a fervent Jew-hater.
Said Livingstone, “The prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, is addressing the World Zionistic Congress. This is the sentence he says, ‘Hitler didn’t want to exterminate the Jews, but only to expel them.'”
“If the prime minister of Israel can say, two days before, exactly what I said, it can’t mean that I’m anti-Semitic — and he’s certainly not anti-Semitic,” alleged Livingstone, giving an incorrect timeline of Netanyahu’s statements and falsely implying that Netanyahu had suggested Hitler supported Zionism.
Livingstone said he would “invite the prime minister of Israel to come over and defend me, as he clearly agrees with what I said,” according to The Telegraph.
Netanyahu walked back the controversial comments at the time, amid intense criticism in Israel and abroad. In a lengthy Facebook post, he said he wished to “clarify [his] remarks about the connection between the Mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini and the Nazis.” He said that he “did not mean to claim that in his conversation with Hitler in November 1941 the mufti convinced him to adopt the Final Solution. The Nazis decided on that by themselves… The decision to move from a policy of deporting Jews to the Final Solution was made by the Nazis and was not dependent on outside influence. The Nazis saw in the mufti a collaborator, but they did not need him to decide on the systematic destruction of European Jewry, which began in June 1941.”
British historian and journalist Andrew Roberts wrote Thursday that Livingstone knew full well that Hitler was no Zionist and that his remarks were intentionally made to offend as many Jews as possible.
“The sole reason Ken Livingstone brought up the Fuhrer in his interview was to be as vicious and loathsome as he possibly could to any Jews listening, rather than genuinely intending to make some valid historical point about the migration policies of the putative Third Reich in the 1930s,” Roberts wrote in an article on CapX, adding “he must know perfectly well that the very insertion of the word ‘Hitler’ in the context of a debate over anti-Semitism would create precisely the effect that it has.
“It was therefore a totally cold-blooded attempt to offend the maximum amount of Jews to the maximum extent,” Roberts wrote.
In a letter published by the Guardian, 83 Jewish members and supporters of the Labour party rejected assertions that the Labour party had an anti-Semitism problem and said the accusations were “part of a wider campaign against the Labour leadership, and they have been timed particularly to do damage to the Labour party and its prospects in elections in the coming week.”
“As Jews, we are appalled that a serious issue is being used in this cynical and manipulative way, diverting attention from much more widespread examples of Islamophobia and xenophobia in the Conservative and other parties,” they wrote, adding “we dissociate ourselves from the misleading attacks on Labour from some members of the Jewish community.”
The Livingstone controversy erupted a day after Corbyn, a bitter critic of Israel who has referred to Hamas and Hezbollah representatives as “friends,” reluctantly suspended MP Naz Shah, who had called for the dismantling of Israel, compared Israelis to Hitler and posted pro-Hamas tweets.
Senior UK Labour Party lawmakers have called on Corbyn to take firmer action against anti-Semitism among its members, in light of the anti-Semitic remarks by Livingstone, MP Shah, and others.
At least 39 members of the Labour Party’s 230 members of Parliament have criticized Corbyn’s handling of the scandal, according to The Telegraph, which has included the party leader’s suggestion that the crisis was created by “those who are nervous of the strength of the Labour Party at local level.”
On Friday, a Labour council leader apologized for sharing a Facebook post likening Israel to the Islamic State terror group. “Israel is a terrorist state like ISIS,” said the post shared by Muhammed Butt on April 16, Jewish News reported.
“I apologize for sharing this on social media. I do not agree with these views and as Leader of Brent Council I have championed diversity, tolerance and respect for all faith communities, and will continue to do so,” Butt told Jewish News on Friday.