Striking back at Netanyahu, Corbyn says Israel killed ‘dozens’ of Gaza kids

UK Labour chief rebuffs PM’s criticism of him for honoring terrorists by attacking both IDF and nation-state law; no response from Jerusalem

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Composite image of Britain's Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn (l) in Brussels on October 19, 2017 and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on July 16, 2018. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert and Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Composite image of Britain's Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn (l) in Brussels on October 19, 2017 and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on July 16, 2018. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert and Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Official Israel declined to comment Tuesday on accusations made the previous day by UK Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, who said Israel had killed “dozens of children” in Gaza in recent weeks.

Corbyn, who is currently engulfed in a major controversy over anti-Semitism in his party, made the charge in response to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemning him for having attended a ceremony honoring the terrorists behind the 1972 Munich Olympic massacre and for having compared Israeli military rule in the West Bank to the Nazi occupation of European countries during World War II.

“Netanyahu’s claims about my actions and words are false,” Corbyn tweeted Monday. “What deserves unequivocal condemnation is the killing of over 160 Palestinian protesters in Gaza by Israeli forces since March, including dozens of children.”

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman on Monday said that 168 Palestinians were killed at the Gaza border in clashes with Israeli forces since the beginning of the so-called March of Return, a series of protests encouraged by the Hamas terrorist organization. Hamas has acknowledged that dozens of the fatalities were its members.

According to the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry, 27 of the fatalities were minors. Israeli officials do not comment on the Gaza ministry’s figures, and they did not respond to Corbyn’s comment.

According to Reuven Erlich of the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, the overall number of casualties is actually slightly slower, at 147. He said his tally was based on research the institute had done.

“Some of the children who were killed were trained and sent by Hamas or are affiliated with gangs close to Hamas,” Erlich told The Times of Israel. Erlich did not give a figure for Gaza fatalities aged under 18.

Since March, there have been near-weekly violent protests along the Israel-Gaza border supported by Gaza’s Hamas rulers, as well as rocket and mortar attacks on Israel and retaliatory IDF airstrikes. The deadly border clashes have seen Israeli security forces facing gunfire, grenades, Molotov cocktails, and efforts — sometimes successful — to damage or penetrate the border fence. Last month, an Israeli soldier was killed by a sniper.

In response, IDF troops have used tear gas and live rounds against rioters deemed legitimate targets, under the military’s rules of engagement.

Corbyn, responding to Netanyahu, also criticized Israel’s recently passed Jewish nation-state law, saying it “discriminates against Israel’s Palestinian minority.”

Referring to a large demonstration Saturday night during which activists waved Palestinian flags, to much criticism in Israel, Corbyn wrote: “I stand with the tens of thousands of Arab and Jewish citizens of Israel demonstrating for equal rights at the weekend in Tel Aviv.

The Foreign Ministry and the Prime Minister’s Office both declined to comment on Corbyn’s tweets.

Until this week, Netanyahu had remained silent on the ongoing anti-Semitism controversy in Britain.

Asked by The Times of Israel in April whether he would be willing to meet the British opposition leader if he came to Israel, Netanyahu’s office refused to respond. In an interview, Corbyn had told the UK’s Jewish News in that he intends to visit Israel and meet Netanyahu “at some point,” though he added that he currently had no such plans.

This brief tit-for-tat started when Netanyahu said that Corbyn laying a wreath on the graves “of the terrorist who perpetrated the Munich massacre and his comparison of Israel to the Nazis deserves unequivocal condemnation from everyone — left, right and everything in between.”

Corbyn has faced renewed criticism since Saturday, when the Daily Mail newspaper published photos of him holding a wreath during a 2014 ceremony at a Tunisian cemetery. It appeared from the snapshots that Corbyn was standing near the graves of Palestinian terrorists involved in the massacre of 11 Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics in 1972.

And in a video clip shared on Twitter on Friday, Corbyn can be heard saying that Palestinians in the West Bank live “under occupation of the very sort that would be recognized by many people in Europe who suffered occupation during the Second World War, with the endless roadblocks, imprisonment, irrational behavior by the military and the police.”

The video was said to have been filmed at a 2013 event held by the Palestine Return Centre, when Corbyn was a fairly unknown Labour MP.

Netanyahu’s comments came after Corbyn appeared to acknowledge that he was at the event for the  wreath-laying ceremony.

“A wreath was indeed laid by some of those who attended the conference of those that were killed in Paris in 1992,” Corbyn told Sky News.

He was referring to the grave of Atef Bseiso, who was head of intelligence for the PLO and was involved in the murder of the Israeli athletes as part of the 1972 Black September terrorist operation in Munich. Bseiso was killed in Paris in 1992.

Pressed on the point, Corbyn answered: “I was present when it was laid. I don’t think I was actually involved in it.”

Instead, Corbyn said, he was there to honor all those killed in terror attacks.

“I was there because I wanted to see a fitting memorial to everyone who has died in every terrorist incident everywhere because we have to end it,” he said. “You cannot pursue peace by a cycle of violence. The only way to pursue peace is a cycle of dialogue.”

The “terrorist incident” he was apparently referring to was an  Israeli air force strike on the PLO headquarters in 1985, in response to the hijacking of an Israeli yacht and the execution of three Israeli passengers.

PLO leader Yasser Arafat escaped unharmed, although several of his bodyguards and several civilians were killed in the strike, which completely destroyed the headquarters.

Pictures published by the Daily Mail on Saturday appear to show Corbyn in front of a plaque honoring members of the Black September terrorist organization, 15 yards (approximately 13 meters) away from the graves of those killed in the 1985 airstrike.

In his article published after the trip, Corbyn, the opposition leader, did appear to refer to the grave of one of the architects of the Munich massacre.

“After wreaths were laid at the graves of those who died on that day and on the graves of others killed by Mossad agents in Paris in 1991, we moved to the poignant statue in the main avenue of the coastal town of Ben Arous, which was festooned with Palestinian and Tunisian flags,” he wrote.

A member of the terrorist group Black September, which seized members of the Israeli Olympic team at their quarters during the 1972 Munich Olympics (photo credit: AP/Kurt Strumpf)
A member of the Palestinian terrorist group Black September, which killed 11 members of the Israeli Olympic team, during the 1972 Munich Olympics. (AP/Kurt Strumpf)

During the September 1972 attack on the Munich Olympic Village by the Black September Palestinian terror group, 11 Israelis were taken hostage. Two were murdered in the Olympic village and nine others were executed at the airport. A German policeman was killed in a shootout with the terrorists, during a botched rescue attempt.

According to the Daily Mail on Saturday, the photos from the ceremony show Corbyn in front of a plaque honoring Black September founder Salah Khalaf, his key aide, Fakhri al-Omari, and Hayel Abdel-Hamid, PLO chief of security. Adjacent to their graves is that of Bseiso. All are widely thought to have been assassinated either by the Mossad or rival Palestinian factions.

The scandal is only the latest round in a long-running crisis for the Labour 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 seem unable or unwilling to decisively excise anti-Semitic members and sentiments from Labour’s ranks.

At the heart of Labour’s current 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.

Judah Ari Gross and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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