UK Labour candidate defends calling Hamas, Hezbollah ‘friends’

Would-be opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn says he doesn’t agree with Islamist groups, but doesn’t apologize for inviting them to Parliament

Tamar Pileggi is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Labour leadership candidate Jeremy Corbyn explains to BBC why he described the Islamist militant organizations Hamas and Hezbollah "friends" in a July 13, 2015 interview. (screen grab: YouTube)
Labour leadership candidate Jeremy Corbyn explains to BBC why he described the Islamist militant organizations Hamas and Hezbollah "friends" in a July 13, 2015 interview. (screen grab: YouTube)

Left-wing British Labour MP, Jeremy Corbyn, who six years ago offered to host representatives of Hamas and Hezbollah in the British Parliament, attempted to clarify his position in a Monday interview with the British TV station Channel 4.

Corbyn insisted that he used the word “friends” in “collective way” to describe the extremist Islamist organizations during a 2009 speech, but did not endorse their views.

“I’m saying that people I talk to, I use it in a collective way, saying our friends are prepared to talk,” he said of his decision to invite representatives of the two groups to address British parliamentarians six years ago.

“Does it mean I agree with Hamas and what it does? No. Does it mean I agree with Hezbollah and what they do? No. What it means is that I think to bring about a peace process, you have to talk to people with whom you may profoundly disagree,” he said.

Corbyn said he had extended an invitation to the two organizations to facilitate dialogue in the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

“I welcomed our friends from Hezbollah to have a discussion and a debate, and I said I wanted Hamas to be part of that debate. I have met Hamas in Lebanon and I’ve met Hezbollah in this country and Lebanon,” he said.

Drawing a parallel between the ideology of the militant groups and right- wing Israeli politics, Corbyn said that he had encountered Israelis with extremist views often times attributed only to Palestinians.

“I’ve also had discussions with people from the right in Israeli politics who have the same view possibly that the state of Israel should extend from the river to the sea, as it is claimed people from the Palestinian side do,” he said.

Corbyn, who did not offer an apology for his remarks or positions, snapped at the interviewer for interrupting him.

“There is not going to be a peace process unless there is talks involving Israel, Hezbollah and Hamas and I think everyone knows that,” he said, before noting that former Mossad head Efraim Halevy called for Israel to negotiate with Hamas last year.

During a 2009 speech Corbyn gave as patron of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, the current Labour leadership candidate had invited members of the organizations to address Parliament.

“It will be my pleasure and honor to host an event in Parliament where our friends from Hezbollah will be speaking. I’ve also invited our friends from Hamas to come and speak as well… So far as I’m concerned, that is absolutely the right function of using Parliamentary facilities.”

Britain’s pro-Israel community is viewing the race for the Labour Party leadership with concern after the UK’s biggest union, Unite, threw its weight behind Corbyn.

Corbyn, MP for the inner city London constituency of North Islington since 1983, was a surprise addition to the leadership race, set for a September vote. But Corbyn’s very difference from the other candidates — former health secretary Andy Burnham, Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper (wife of ousted shadow chancellor Ed Balls, who lost his seat in the May election), and Shadow Health Care and Older People Minister Liz Kendall — has brought him into prominence.

Commentators say that where Israel is concerned, Burnham is the candidate most obviously akin to Labour’s former leader Ed Miliband, who led the party to an unexpectedly heavy defeat to Prime Minister David Cameron’s ruling Conservatives in May’s elections.

Jenni Frazer contributed to this report.

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