To fight anti-Semitism, British Labor Party leader Jeremy Corbyn must renounce his friendship with groups that seek to kill Jews, Prime Minister David Cameron said in Parliament on Wednesday.
Cameron asked Corbyn to disavow his proclaimed friendship with Hamas and Hezbollah four times during Prime Minister’s Questions.
“Combating anti-Semitism in the Labor Party will mean nothing until [Corbyn] withdraws the remark that [Hamas and Hezbollah] were his friends. He needs to do it, and he should do it today,” the British prime minister said.
Corbyn responded by referring to Holocaust Remembrance Day, which was to begin in Israel several hours later.
Though Corbyn faced criticism for not mentioning Israel by name in past speeches, he did mention Israel this time.
“I hope there is agreement right across all parts of this House in sending our best wishes to those commemorating the occasion and sending a very clear statement that anti-Semitism has no place in our society whatsoever and we all have a duty to oppose it,” he said.
Cameron responded by saying he must “press him on this point,” quoting Corbyn as having said: “It will be my pleasure and my honor to host an event in Parliament where our friends from Hezbollah will be speaking. I’ve also invited friends from Hamas.”
The prime minister pointed out that “Hamas and Hezbollah believe in killing Jews, not just in Israel, but around the world.”
“So,” Cameron continued, “would he take this opportunity, because if he wants to clear up the problem of anti-Semitism in the Labor Party, now is a good time to start.
“Withdraw that they are your friends,” Cameron demanded.
Corbyn replied: “I’ve made it very clear, Labor is an anti-racist party and there is no place for anti-Semitism within it.”
The Labor leader listed the members of his party suspended after making anti-Semitic statements and mentioned the party’s inquiry into them.
As for Hamas and Hezbollah, Corbyn said he “absolutely [does] not approve” of them, and the comments were made about a meeting meant to promote the peace process.
That was not enough of a renunciation for Cameron, who said: “Those organizations, in their constitutions, believe in persecuting and killing Jews. They are anti-Semitic. He must stand up and say they are not his friends.”
Corbyn than said, “Obviously, anyone who commits racist or anti-Semitic acts is not a friend of mine.”
Cameron accused the Labor Party of having a “pattern of behavior” of sharing “platform after platform with extremists and anti-Semites and then excusing their remarks,” calling for a fourth time for Corbyn to withdraw his statement about his terrorist “friends.”
The debate in the House of Commons came after a series of incidents in recent months, in which Labor members were suspended for anti-Semitic posts on social media. Events came to a head last week, when right-wing political blog Guido Fawkes uncovered a Facebook post by MP Naz Shah calling for mass “transportation” of Israelis to America, and then, while defending Shah, former London mayor Ken Livingstone claimed Hitler “was supporting Zionism before he went mad and ended up killing six million Jews.” Both were suspended by the party.
The daily stream of anti-Semitic statements and social media posts by Labor officials coming to light continued on Wednesday, leading to their suspension. Guido Fawkes reported on tweets by Labor councilor in Newport Miqdad al-Nuaimi comparing Israel to Nazis and saying there is a “very interesting” connection between Israel and the Islamic State. The blog also reported that Terry Kelly, a Labor councilor in Renfrewshire wrote multiple posts on his personal blog about the “Jewish lobby” in America, which “has it’s [sic] boot on Obama’s neck” and rigs the Academy Awards, and also criticized Diaspora Jewry for not protesting against Israel, whose actions Kelly compared to the Holocaust.
Alex Wickham, Guido Fawkes’s news editor and the first to report on many of the Labor members’ anti-Semitic remarks, said the bigotry is allowed to exist unchallenged in some quarters of the British Left.
“On the pro-Palestinian Left in Britain, a lot of these people may make legitimate criticism of the Israeli government, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but there’s clearly a nasty undercurrent that’s anti-Semitic and oversteps the line from criticism of policies into hatred of Jews. That’s what we’ve seen over the past few weeks,” he said.
The statements that have led to Labor members’ suspensions, Wickham explained, “are not people saying ‘I disagree with the Israeli government on xyz,’ it’s about Jews and Hitler, which is something completely different.
“The problem with the Labor Party is their party leader is a member of the pro-Palestinian far Left, and that only encourages this kind of thing. They have a leader like Corbyn who has said things like Hamas and Hezbollah are his friends, and has a really poor record on standing up to Islamic extremists and anti-Semites.
He defended them and shared platforms with them.
“When you have someone like that in charge, it’ll only encourage this view to be prevalent,” Wickham said.
Wickham questioned Corbyn’s ability to fight anti-Semitism in Labor’s ranks, despite suspending anti-Semitic members and appointing an inquiry into the problem, saying Corbyn denied his party has an anti-Semitism problem, a denial that is “laughable, as it demonstratively does.”
“For [Corbyn] to still be insisting nothing is wrong raises questions about how seriously he’s taking it,” he added.
“We’ve been doing these stories for the past two or three months, and it’s been bubbling under the surface,” he said.
“There’s been a steady stream of Labor members... who have made anti-Semitic and inflammatory comments.”
Shah’s suspension was what brought the story to the fore, with international coverage, as she is an MP and thus a more senior member of the Labor Party.
“It’s the only story in town, really,” Wickham said. “Unless they do something, it’ll just go on and on with so many of these people coming out of the woodwork.”