British Prime Minister Theresa May assailed opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn on Wednesday over his party’s recent anti-Semitism troubles, saying Labour has suffered a “national tragedy” under his leadership.
In her keynote address at the Conservative Party conference, May lamented the loss of “common values” in Labour that she said once united both parties.
“What has befallen Labour is a national tragedy,” she said.
Turning to the recent anti-Semitism scandals that have rankled Labour, May referenced a poll from last month suggesting nearly 40 percent of British Jews would “seriously consider emigrating” if Corbyn become prime minister.
“What has it come to when Jewish families today seriously discuss where they should go if Jeremy Corbyn becomes prime minister, when a leading Labour MP says his party is ‘institutionally racist?'” May said, referring to comments by Chuka Umunna last month on his party’s handling of anti-Semitism in its ranks.
The British prime minister then referred to Corbyn’s past appearances on Iran’s Press TV, where in a 2011 interview he complained the BBC was “biased” toward saying Israel has a right to exist.
“That is what Jeremy Corbyn has done to the Labour Party,” May said in summary, adding it was the responsibility of the Conservatives to make sure the opposition leader “can never do it to our country.”
May also unfavorably compared Corbyn to a number of past Labour leaders.
“Would Clement Atlee, Churchill’s trusted deputy during the Second World War, have told British Jews they didn’t know the meaning of anti-Semitism?” she asked, referencing Labour’s adoption of a definition of anti-Semitism that was opposed by British Jewry.
While allegations of anti-Semitism have dogged Corbyn since he became Labour leader three years ago, the furor has reached fever pitch since March.
The crisis over anti-Semitism in the party has caused a major schism within its ranks and led to Jews to express fears over their future in the country.
Corbyn says anti-Semitism has no place in the Labour Party, but he has been roundly criticized over reports of rampant anti-Jewish prejudice, for his own allegedly anti-Semitic statements and activities, and for not backing the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of anti-Semitism.
Labour faced a backlash after partially adopting the IHRA’s definition of anti-Semitism in July but stripping it of clauses pertaining to criticism of Israel. The party last month adopted the definition in full, but added a “free speech” clause that sparked further anger by Jewish groups. Corbyn himself sought and failed to add a further caveat that would have stated that calling Israel and its foundation “racist” should not be considered anti-Semitic.
Elsewhere at the Conservative Party Conference, Home Secretary Sajid Javid praised Labour Friends of Israel for speaking out against anti-Semitism and criticism of the Jewish state in the opposition party.
“One thing we agree on is anti-Semitism is wrong in every shape and form and we all support the State of Israel,” Javid said at a Conservative Friends of Israel event, according to Jewish News.
“Today is an opportunity to extend that hand of friendship and to tell them on Israel and their fight against anti-Semitism we stand with them.”
Javid vowed to strengthen ties with Israel and protect the United Kingdom’s Jewish community. He also said a school trip his brother made to Israel when he was young led to his longstanding backing of Israel.
Agencies contributed to this report.