Britain’s Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn has reportedly refused an invitation from Israeli opposition leader Isaac Herzog, who heads Israel’s own Labor Party, to visit the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum in the wake of a months-long anti-Semitism controversy surrounding large numbers of officials and activists affiliated with the British party.
The British daily The Guardian reported on Saturday that Corbyn had cited existing commitments for turning down Herzog’s invitation, which was made in April, and offered to send in his stead Labour’s deputy leader Tom Watson or its general secretary, Iain McNicol.
“I’m very disappointed Jeremy turned down the invitation to visit Israel from our sister party,” Labour MP Joan Ryan, head of Labour Friends of Israel, was quoted as saying.
“Given the deep concerns about his commitment to a two-state solution, his labeling of terror groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah as ‘friends,’ and the allegations of anti-Semitism which have occurred on his watch, such a visit should have been a priority,” she added.
Another Labour MP, Wes Streeting, was equally scathing. “It is not surprising that Jeremy Corbyn is not viewed as a potential prime minister by the public when he cannot handle diplomatic issues like this,” he was quoted as saying by The Guardian. “This shows why so many people think he is not fit to be prime minister and why many Labour voters would prefer Theresa May.”
Corbyn at first ignored Herzog’s invitation, then reportedly informed Herzog he would send McNicol in November.
Herzog’s April invitation followed “repulsive” comments made that month by Labour’s former London mayor Ken Livingstone, a Corbyn ally, who said that Nazi leader Adolf Hitler supported Zionism “before he went mad.”
Herzog also castigated Livingstone’s “anti-Semitic colleague” MP Naz Shah, who posted a message on Facebook in 2014 calling for the dismantling of the State of Israel, pro-Hamas tweets and comparisons of Israelis to Hitler.
Both were suspended by the party, along with dozens of others.
“Hitler was a Zionist?!” Herzog wrote at the start of his April Facebook post, which included a copy of a letter he sent to Corbyn and other Labour leaders inviting them to visit Yad Vashem. “There are no words to express how repulsive are this statement and others voiced in his party in recent days.”
The dispute over anti-Semitism in Labour has been simmering for months — since Corbyn was elected party leader in September 2015 by grassroots supporters, despite opposition from many MPs — with a stream of party officials shown to have made anti-Semitic statements.
Corbyn has himself been criticized in the past for referring to Lebanon’s powerful Shiite terror group Hezbollah as “friends” and urging dialogue with the Hamas Islamist terror group.
In the wake of Livingstone’s remarks, Corbyn established a formal inquiry into anti-Semitism in his party. “There is no place for anti-Semitism or any form of racism in the Labour Party, or anywhere in society,” Corbyn said at the time.
The inquiry chair, Shami Chakrabarti, reported in June that the party was largely free of anti-Semitism. The report drew criticism from Britain’s Jewish community which was further enflamed when Corbyn subsequently recommended Chakrabarti for peerage.
Last week, the umbrella organization of British Jews called on the Labour Party to finally expel Ken Livingstone from its ranks “immediately” after he again claimed that Hitler once supported the Zionist movement.
Speaking on Vanessa Feltz’s BBC London radio show on Monday morning, Livingstone repeated the claims that he made on her show in April, which led to his suspension from the Labour party.
“After I did the interview with you and I got suspended I couldn’t walk down the street for people stopping me and saying ‘we know what you said is true – don’t give in to them,’” said Livingstone, in comments quoted by the Jewish Chronicle.
“It’s going to be very difficult for them to expel me from the Labour Party when I’ve got this whole sheaf of documents and papers which shows that what I said was true.
“The fact (is) that during the 1930s, Hitler collaborated with the Zionists and supported them because he believed that a solution to his problem – the Jews – was that they should all move to Palestine,” Livingstone said. “Then in the 1940s that changed and he decided on genocide. And that’s the point I made on your program. I’m just surprised that people didn’t check that it was true before they started screaming ‘Nazi apologist.’
“Hitler’s persecution of the Jews started early in the 1930s,” UK Board of Deputies Vice President Marie van der Zyl said in a statement. “He expressed his loathing for Zionism in the 1920s. But yet in 2016 Ken Livingstone seems to want to rewrite history to make it seem like Zionism was responsible for the Holocaust, which is as false as it is grotesquely offensive. Every day that Labour does not expel him is a stain on the party.”
Livingstone’s claims about Hitler and Zionism have been widely dismissed by historians.