Israel’s new ambassador to the United Kingdom on Sunday said he hoped Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn would take up Israeli Labor chief Isaac Herzog’s weekend invitation to visit the Jewish state, and that he’d “love to” meet Corbyn personally after a series of anti-Semitic scandals rocked the British left-wing party.
The issue flared up in the last week when Labour legislator Naz Shah was suspended for posting anti-Israel material before she was elected to Parliament. That prompted former London mayor Ken Livingstone to defend her by saying that Adolf Hitler had been a Zionist early in his political career, before the Nazi leader “went mad” and murdered six million Jews.
Livingstone, who has refused to apologize and insists his claim is true, was quickly suspended from the party where he had sat on the executive council, but his provocative comments led Corbyn to set up an independent review of anti-Semitism and other racism within the party, after initially denying there was a problem.
On Saturday, Herzog called Livingstone’s remarks “repulsive,” and offered to show 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.”
In an interview on BBC’s Andrew Marr talk show Sunday, Israel’s new ambassador to the UK Mark Regev said “of course” he would encourage Corbyn to visit Israel, and that he would love to meet the Labour leader to discuss the issue.
“Yesterday the leader of our Labor Party, and their sister parties, who sit in the Socialist International, invited Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour leadership to visit Israel, and I hope he does so,” said Regev, who until recently served as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s spokesman.
Asked if there was a distinction between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism, Regev replied: “If you’re out there with different flags, and you’re saying this group of people has a right to national self-determination… but that the Jewish people, they don’t have that right… that the idea that the Jewish people would want sovereignty and independence is somehow perverse, evil, then you have to ask, ‘Why are you holding Jews to a different standard?’ There’s a word for that.”
Regev stressed that of course critics “have the right to criticize the government of Israel. Israeli citizens do it every day… It’s not about criticizing Israel. It’s about demonizing the Jewish state,” Regev said. “The comments we’ve heard over the past to three weeks… are demonizing, and a vilification of my country and its very right to exist… There’s a difference between legitimate criticism and hate speech. Just as there’s no justification for hating blacks or hating homosexuals, there’s no justification for hating Jews. And that is a red line that cannot be crossed.” Said Regev, that line has “definitely” been crossed of late.
“The left does have a proud history of fighting anti-Semitism. But it doesn’t mean the left have always been immune to anti-Semitism. I think it’s crucial that leadership stands up and says ‘this is unacceptable,’” he said, in what was his first television interview since taking the post.
Regev also slammed many of Britain’s self-proclaimed progressive politicians for “embracing Hamas,” a Palestinian terrorist group that openly seeks the destruction of Israel. Corbyn has himself talked of Hezbollah as his “friends” and encouraged dialogue with Hamas.
Said Regev: “You’ve had too many people on the progressive side of politics who have embraced Hamas and Hezbollah.” He went on: “Both of them are anti-Semitic organizations; you just have to read Hamas’s charter and it’s like chapters straight out of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Yet some progressive politicians have embraced Hamas. Now, I’d ask the following question: If you’re progressive, you’re embracing an organization which is homophobic, which is misogynistic, which is openly anti-Semitic. What’s progressive about that?”
There has to be an unequivocal message, he said, that there is “no solidarity with anti-Semites.”
“Can you imagine someone in the Labour party sharing a platform with someone who is an anti-black racist?” Regev asked. “Or someone who is homophobic and called for hatred of homosexuals? Why can you share a platform with someone who is openly anti-Semitic?”
He added: “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.”
Asked by Marr whether a line had been crossed in the Labour discourse in recent weeks, Regev replied that language had “definitely” been seen that would suggest this.
Also Sunday, senior Labour Party figures were fighting back against charges there is anti-Semitism in the party’s ranks ahead of Thursday’s vote for a new mayor of London and other posts.
Labour legislator Diane Abbott said Sunday the party is being unfairly attacked by its political enemies while union leader Len McCluskey said the controversy is being exploited by Labour’s rivals.
“It is a smear to say that the Labour Party has a problem with anti-Semitism. It is not fair on ordinary Labour Party members,” Abbott said. “Two hundred thousand people have joined the Labour Party. Are you saying that because there have been 12 reported incidents of hate speech online, that the Labour Party is somehow intrinsically anti-Semitic?”
Abbott, who helps set the party’s international development policies, spoke on the BBC as the debate over Labour’s attitudes dominated political news in the final days of electioneering. The airwaves were filled with commentators debating whether the frequent criticism of Israeli government policies from Labour members had crossed over into anti-Semitism.
Labour Party mayoral candidate Sadiq Khan, who is leading in pre-election polls, said the comments have made his path to victory tougher.
“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,” he told The Observer newspaper.