Interview'Corbyn won't meet Trump, but he'll meet Hamas'

UK Jewish leader calls Corbyn premiership an ‘existential threat’ to community

Speaking to The Times of Israel, Jewish Leadership Council head Jonathan Goldstein says British Jewry’s collective fear is ‘unprecedented’

Robert Philpot is a writer and journalist. He is the former editor of Progress magazine and the author of “Margaret Thatcher: The Honorary Jew.”

Jonathan Goldstein, chair of the Jewish Leadership Council, addresses the crowd in Parliament Square at the #EnoughIsEnough demonstration organized by UK Jewish leaders to protest anti-Semitism in the Labour party, March 2018. (Marc Morris/Jewish News)
Jonathan Goldstein, chair of the Jewish Leadership Council, addresses the crowd in Parliament Square at the #EnoughIsEnough demonstration organized by UK Jewish leaders to protest anti-Semitism in the Labour party, March 2018. (Marc Morris/Jewish News)

LONDON, United Kingdom — The head of Britain’s Jewish Leadership Council Jonathan Goldstein charged that Jeremy Corbyn’s alleged participation in a ceremony honoring the terrorists behind the 1972 Munich massacre is a “defining moment, typifying and showing his great hostility towards Israel and, through Israel, to the Jewish people.”

In a stinging attack, Goldstein said the Labour leader’s behavior was “insensitive, crass and antagonistic,” and he labels him “un-British.”

Goldstein accused Corbyn of engaging in “vacillations, meanderings, [and] frankly distortions” over his attendance at a 2014 event in Tunis which took place near the graves of leading figures in the Black September movement. The Palestinian terror group masterminded the attack in which 11 Israeli athletes were brutally murdered.

In response to the media uproar, Corbyn and his supporters say that he was at the cemetery to pay his respects to those who died in the 1985 Israeli bombing of the PLO headquarters in Tunis.

Speaking to The Times of Israel, Goldstein lambasted Corbyn’s refusal to apologize to the families who were bereaved by the Munich attack.

“When the Munich widows said, ‘You caused us hurt,’ anybody who recognizes what those poor women have gone through, and the other relatives have gone through, any man with half a heart would say, ‘You know what, if I have caused hurt inadvertently I apologize,'” Goldstein said.

Jeremy Corbyn (second from left) holding a wreath during a visit to the Martyrs of Palestine, in Tunisia, in October 2014. (Facebook page of the Palestinian embassy in Tunisia)

“He couldn’t even bring himself to do that. I do think it’s such a deep part of his political beliefs that in my view makes him un-British,” he added.

Earlier this week, Goldstein said Corbyn’s alleged actions in Tunis rendered him “not fit to be a member of parliament, let alone a national leader.”

Goldstein, who leads the umbrella body for 32 Jewish organizations, met Corbyn along with the Board of Deputies in April following the “Enough Is Enough” demonstration against anti-Semitism in the Labour Party which was held in Parliament Square.

Now, however, he believes there is “no good faith and no real basis upon which any conversations can occur” between the Jewish community and the Labour leadership. Labour, he said, is guilty of a “lack of honesty [and a] lack of transparency” in its dealings with communal bodies.

“The reason I find the whole Tunis episode such a defining moment was that I have wondered since we met in April whether Mr. Corbyn really did want to have a relationship with us as a community,” said Goldstein.

“I think that his actions this week and his actions — or lack of actions — since April have really sent us a very clear message and all the words in the world about fighting anti-Semitism are thin and frankly vacuous if they’re not matched by actions,” Goldstein added.

“He says he’s been fighting anti-Semitism all his life,” a clearly exasperated Goldstein argued. “I would ask him to show me one example of what that means. What does that mean? Because it’s just words.”

Members of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, left to right, Gillian Merron, Jonathan Arkush, Jonathan Goldstein, and Simon Johnson, speak to the media outside Britain’s parliament following a meeting with Britain’s opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, in London, Tuesday April 24, 2018. ( Jonathan Brady/PA via AP)

Goldstein contrasted Corbyn’s silence when it comes to condemning allies accused of anti-Semitism with his swift response to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s condemnation of his involvement in the wreath-laying ceremony.

“How long did it take him to respond to Benjamin Netanyahu’s Tweet? Minutes,” he noted.

Goldstein dismissed Corbyn’s claims that he was in Tunis to attend a conference “to try and promote peace in the Middle East.”

Reports in the British media say that among those attending the “International Conference on Monitoring the Palestinian Political and Legal Situation in the Light of Israeli Aggression” conference were leading figures in Hamas and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

“He’s never been been prepared to hear both sides of the story,” Goldstein responded. “Never.”

He drew a parallel between Corbyn’s support for Irish republicans, who wish to force Britain out of Northern Ireland, and Protestant “loyalists” who want the province to remain part of the UK.

“You can point to dozens of meetings with republicans, you can never point to one meeting with a loyalist,” he said.

Jonathan Goldstein, center, along with members of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, (left to right) Gillian Merron, Jonathan Arkush, and Simon Johnson outside Britain’s parliament following a meeting with Britain’s opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn Tuesday April 24, 2018. (Jonathan Brady/PA via AP)

Noting that Corybn refused to appear with members of other British political parties during the 2016 Brexit referendum campaign, Goldstein asked: “Why is it that he’s prepared to share a platform with Hamas [and] Hezbollah?”

“I’m no fan of [US President] Donald Trump — but he wouldn’t meet Donald Trump [when the US president came to London], but he’ll meet the head of Hamas,” said Goldstein.

“Where is the line, Mr. Corbyn? Who are you prepared to meet and who are you not prepared to meet?” he asked. “Because you won’t share a platform with Theresa May or David Cameron, but you will share a platform with Hamas and Hezbollah.

Protestors hold up banners as a six-meter high cartoon baby blimp of US President Donald Trump is flown as a protest against his visit, in Parliament Square in London, England, Friday, July 13, 2018. (AP Photo/Tim Ireland)

“We might have political differences with Theresa May and David Cameron, but I don’t think any of us would even try or wish to put them in the same bracket,” Goldstein said.

Goldstein does not accept, as some have suggested, that the Conservative Party has a problem with Islamophobia comparable to that which Labour has with anti-Semitism.

“There are, of course, elements of Islamophobia within the Conservative Party which is unacceptable and needs to be rooted out of all society,” he said.

“I think the big difference between the Islamophobia issue in the Conservative Party and what happens in the Labour Party, is that Islamophobia allegations in the Conservative Party are not being leveled at the leadership of the Tory party,” Goldstein said.

Nonetheless, Goldstein strongly attacked former foreign secretary Boris Johnson for his recent comments saying that burqas are “ridiculous” because they make women look like “letter boxes” and “bank robbers.”

“The way in which he approached it in this sort of rabble rousing, knee-jerk reaction with deliberately provocative language was totally unacceptable. It was demeaning, it was humiliating and it was racist,” said Goldstein.

Britain’s Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, leaves the Foreign Office on his way to Downing Street for a cabinet meeting, in London, June 26, 2018. (Victoria Jones/PA via AP)

Goldstein paid tribute to Jewish Labour MPs, party moderates and groups such as the Jewish Labour Movement and Labour Friends of Israel, but believes many will face a tough choice at the next general election.

“I have always admired those who have stayed within the party and fought,” he said.

Jonathan Goldstein, chairman of the Jewish Leadership Council. (Courtesy)

However, he went on to warn: “I would draw a distinction between the work that you’re doing during a parliament and campaigning at a general election. It’s a very different thing.”

It will not be possible, Goldstein suggested, for Jewish Labour MPs and candidates to argue, as some did at the 2017 election, that they were fighting Corbyn within the party and there was no prospect of him becoming prime minister. Labour trailed the Conservatives by double-digits in the opinion polls when May called last summer’s general election, but fought her to a virtual draw by the end of the campaign.

“Ultimately, it’s a matter for individual conscience. I don’t think it’s right for us as representatives of the Jewish community to dictate to anyone. You’ve never heard me say that Jews should not vote Labour,” he argued.

“People have to make their own individual decisions, but I do see how it’s problematic and difficult to campaign for a man who the community is saying they simply would not feel comfortable having as their prime minister — and that’s a unique statement,” Goldstein said.

UK’s Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn admits he attended a ceremony honoring terrorists behind 1972 Munich Olympics attack on August 13, 2018. (Screen capture: Sky News)

“It has never occurred in our lifetimes that the Jewish community [has said] … we are nervous about this man becoming prime minister. We see the possibility of a Labour government led by this group as an existential threat to our community. These are unprecedented times,” he said.

Goldstein strongly endorsed the joint warning issued last month by three UK Jewish newspapers that a Corbyn-led government would pose an “existential threat to Jewish life” in Britain.

However, he said he continues to believe in “the innate goodness of the British public and the British electorate.”

“I see him, I see the principles and the … Corbyn approach [as] essentially an un-British one, and I think ultimately the British public will come to that view as well,” Goldstein concluded.

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