The leader of the UK’s Labour party visited Syria in 2009 on a trip paid for by a Palestinian rights group and met with Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Jeremy Corbyn made the trip along with other members of parliament from all three of Britain’s major political parties, the Daily Mail reported on Saturday.
A far-left politician who in 2009 called Hezbollah and Hamas his “friends” – an expression he recently said for the first time he regretted using – Corbyn has been accused of encouraging vitriolic speech against Israel as well as Jews by befriending anti-Semitic movements and individuals.
The Syria trip seven years ago was funded by the Palestinian Return Centre, which recently organized an event in the House of Lords during which one member of the audience won applause for claiming that Jews were to blame for the Holocaust and comparing Israel to the Islamic State group.
Members’ Register of Interests records showed Corbyn reported the Syria visit as costing £1,300 ($1,500) and that the purpose was “to visit Iraqi and Palestinian refugee camps in Syria.”
The visit was held to mark the anniversary of the Balfour Declaration of 1917, in which the United Kingdom committed to viewing favorably the establishment of a Jewish national home in what would later become the British Mandate on Palestine.
Following his return to Britain, Corbyn told parliament at the time that “I pay tribute to the fact that Syria has accommodated a very large number of refugees and ensured that they are able to live in that country in safety.”
In an article he penned in the communist-aligned Morning Star newspaper, Corbyn described how he met with Palestinians on what he termed the anniversary of the “infamous” declaration, and criticized the US for failing to prevent Israeli settlement expansion.
“Once again the Israeli tail wags the US dog… as [secretary of state] Hillary Clinton drops demands to even halt new settlements as the Netanyahu government pushes to continue its dismemberment of the West Bank,” the Mail quoted him as writing.
One of the lawmakers who joined Corbyn in Syria was Baroness Jenny Tonge, who resigned last week from the Liberal-Democrat party after she was suspended over comments she made during the House of Lords meeting.
The recollection of the Syria visit came as Corbyn’s party continues to face intense scrutiny in the British media, which has reported on dozens of cases involving hate speech against Jews or Israel by party members, including senior lawmakers loyal to Corbyn. While many Corbyn supporters have dismissed the accusations as smears, he has vowed to suspend anyone making racist or anti-Semitic statements. However, Corbyn has declined to define anti-Semitism.