UK Labor leader Jeremy Corbyn did not say the word “Israel” once during his speech at a Labor Friends of Israel event, to the outrage of pro-Israel activists and MKs present.
MK Michal Biran (Zionist Union), who was at the event adjacent to the annual Labor Party Conference in Brighton, England, said on Wednesday that Corbyn’s address “was unprecedented and outrageous [in that he] chose not to mention the State of Israel even once.”
“There is no doubt that his appearance at the event confirmed our earlier concerns,” she stated.
“Corbyn has to back down [from his stances] or else they may cause irreparable damage to the relations between our two countries.”
MK Erel Margalit (Zionist Union) said, following the speech, that he “went to the Labor Conference to unequivocally state to anyone who needs reminding that the State of Israel is stronger than ever and de-legitimization of Israel is unacceptable.”
Referring to Corbyn’s statements that Hamas and Hezbollah are his friends, Margalit said “Israel is an example of democratic principles, which the Labor party promotes, while Hamas is a murderous terrorist organization that we need to forcefully oppose, isolate and not legitimize.”
Margalit expressed hope that relations between the Israeli and the UK Labor parties will continue to grow and develop, but said the burden of proof is on Corbyn that he seek peace.
“It’s his responsibility in light of his dubious allies,” he added.
James Sorene, CEO of the Britain Israel Communications and Research Center, called Corbyn’s speech a defining moment.
“At the largest gathering of Israel supporters in the Labor Party, he had the perfect opportunity to reassure people who are concerned about his support for Hamas and Hezbollah. Instead he chose not to utter the word ‘Israel’ or say anything about Israelis. It was an astonishing omission,” Sorene stated.
At the conclusion of Corbyn’s speech Tuesday night, Corbyn was heckled by an audience member after he failed to mention Israel by name in his comments.
“Say the word Israel,” a man yelled inside the packed auditorium, where the Labor Friends of Israel event was being held, before being ushered out by security guards, a video on the website of the British daily The Telegraph showed.
The man, whose identity remains unknown, was not allowed back inside.
The Labor leader looked shocked after the outburst was made, as can be seen in the video.
During the speech, Corbyn called for dialogue towards peace and professed his support for the UK parliament’s recognition of Palestinian statehood. He also called for a lift of the “siege on Gaza,” before correcting himself and saying “restrictions on Gaza.” He did not say what a peace settlement should look like, as he did not mention the word “Israel” or say it should exist on any lines – pre-1967 or not.
Corbyn also commended the Jewish community for helping refugees from the Middle East and said “we will not join in the xenophobic attacks on people seeking refuge...We will be part of helping them, of welcoming them and also of trying to bring about a political solution to the crisis across the Middle East, particularly in Syria.”
The Labor leader seemed to imply that Israel violates international human rights standards, telling the audience that he is committed to and passionate about protecting them around the world.
“That means sometimes you have to be very critical of people for their abuses of human rights,” he stated.
“That’s why I think we have to stand by international conventions on human rights. We have to stand by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and, in our own society, very strongly defend the European Convention on Human Rights and the Human Rights Act.”
Corbyn spoke out against anti-Semitism, but only in the context of general xenophobia and islamophobia, and only from the far-right, and not the left, though he has been dogged by allegations of anti-Semitism. He did not address the anti-Israel Boycott, Divest and Sanctions movement, which he openly supported as recently as August 2015.
A source connected to the event said pro-Israel Labor MPs were unlikely to openly criticize Corbyn’s speech, because the fact that he addressed Labor Friends of Israel was already outside of the party leader’s comfort zone, and because moderates in the party have enough battles with the far-left Corbyn aside from this issue.
The 66-year-old has held a pro-Palestinian stance since entering Parliament, specializing in delivering fierce and often very direct criticism of Israeli policies. One of the popular leaders of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, his contributions to foreign affairs debates include diatribes about the behavior of Israeli troops and about abuses of Palestinian human rights.
In addition to calling terrorist organizations such as Hamas and Hezbollah “friends,” Corbyn has invited to parliament known anti-Semites like the Islamic Movement northern branch leader Raed Salah, who has been convicted of terrorism in Israel and of inciting to violence by spreading blood libels.Daniel Roth contributed to this report.