The leader of one of the UK’s main unions implied on Thursday that Israel was responsible for the recent anti-Semitism row that has engulfed the Labour Party, claiming it was designed to mask “atrocities” against the Palestinians.
Mark Serwotka, head of the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), told delegates at the Trades Union Congress (TUC) conference that Israel may have created a “story that does not exist.” A recording of the speech was published in the UK’s Independent newspaper.
At the event organized by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, held on the sidelines of the TUC conference, Serwotka suggested the Jewish state was responsible for the fight over anti-Semitism plaguing the party and its leader Jeremy Corbyn.
“Now, I’m not a conspiracy theorist,” he said. “But I’ll tell you what — one of the best forms of actually trying to hide from the atrocities that you are committing is to go on the offensive and actually create a story that does not exist for people on this platform, the trade union movement or I have to say, for the leader of the Labour Party.”
He told the delegates in Manchester that there had been “the most systematic attempt to shut down all those advocating justice for the Palestinians in a way that should trouble all those who want to expose injustices.”
He had started his speech by denouncing anti-Semitism.
“Our union is clear that we stand and we argue and we’re, all of us, against anti-Semitism, and any prejudice against our Jewish brothers and sisters because it is wrong and there is no place for it in the Labour movement,” he said.
He also said the issue should have been better dealt with by the British opposition party.
“I think it is unfortunate that the Labour Party allowed a lot of this to drag on, in a way that actually didn’t help anybody,” he said.
Serwotka, who has headed the union since 2000, went on to stress that the Labour Party should be focused on increased support for Palestinians against the Israeli “atrocities.”
He denounced the decision of US President Donald Trump to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and to move the embassy from Tel Aviv and the ending of American aid to Palestinians.
He also said Labour should be calling for an end to the blockade of Gaza, which Israel has imposed since the Hamas terror group took control of the Strip. Serwotka denounced the killing of some 125 Palestinians by Israeli troops during violent riots on the Gaza border, dozens of which have been acknowledged by Hamas and other terror groups as their members. He described the casualties as “including many, many children… unarmed, innocent civilians.”
“Isn’t it a funny old world when instead of being on the front foot, denouncing these atrocities, demanding an independent and sovereign state for the Palestinian people, that we have had a summer of asking ourselves whether leading Labour movement people are in any way anti-Semitic?” he asked.
Serwotka was kicked out of the Labour Party during the 1990s due to his membership of the far-left Alliance for Workers’ Liberty group. He rejoined the party in 2016 after Corbyn was elected leader.
Serwotka’s comments were denounced by pro-Israel groups and those working to oppose anti-Semitism within the Labour Party.
“Mr. Serwotka’s comments are despicable. There is a problem of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party because of anti-Semites and Jeremy Corbyn’s failure to deal with them, not because of Israel,” said Jennifer Gerber, head of Labour Friends of Israel.
“For a general-secretary of a major trade union to allude to conspiracy theories and blame Jews for their own persecution shows the extent of the problem we now see on the left,” she added.
A spokesman for Labour Against Antisemitism said Serwotka’s speech showed how deeply embedded anti-Semitism was within the party.
“To intimate that the Israeli government is somehow responsible for the anti-Semitism crisis that has torn across the Labour Party this summer is a baseless lie,” said Euan Philipps.
“It callously dismisses the serious and legitimate concerns of the Jewish community, while also drawing on anti-Semitic tropes (including dual loyalty and conspiracy theory) to draw attention from what is a recognized issue of discrimination against Jews across the political left.”
He called the theory “absurd” and “offensive” and called for Serwotka to resign from his position.
Speaking at the same TUC event, Hugh Lanning of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign called Israel a “racist state,” in defiance of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism recently accepted by the Labour Party, the Independent reported.
“If it acts and behaves like an apartheid state, we should call it an apartheid state – and not be frightened of doing so,” he said to loud applause.
He called for a boycott of the Jewish state, telling delegates to “shift the tipping point” so that the trade unions and the Labour Party would accept that policy.
The crisis over anti-Semitism in the Labour Party — including its failure to fully adopt the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism until earlier this month — has caused a major schism within its ranks and led Jews to express fears over their future in the country.
Almost 40 percent of British Jews would “seriously consider emigrating” if Corbyn became prime minister, according to a recent poll conducted for The Jewish Chronicle.