Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Long perceived as a figure staunchly opposed to Israel, British Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn held his first meeting with the senior leadership of organized British Jewry on Tuesday in what appeared to be an effort to mend fences.
“We had a positive and constructive meeting and were pleased that Mr. Corbyn gave a very solid commitment to the right of Israel to live within secure and recognized boundaries as part of a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict,” said Jonathan Arkush, president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, said in a statement.
“Mr. Corbyn affirmed his support for shechita [ritual slaughter], brit mila [circumcision] and Jewish-faith schools. He also resolved in strong terms to fight anti-Semitism from wherever it comes. He rejected any sort of violence or intimidation such as occurred at King’s College London last month.”
In January, pro-Palestinian demonstrators at a speech by former Shin Bet head Ami Ayalon became violent, smashing a window and setting off fire alarms, necessitating a police response.
Corbyn’s replacement of Ed Miliband, who is Jewish, as the opposition party’s leader in September, worried supporters of the Jewish state who objected to his characterization of the Palestinian terrorist groups Hamas and Hezbollah as “friends” and his public defense of an Anglican minister who posted anti-Semitic conspiracy theories on-line.
The politician, who has also has publicly endorsed a blanket arms embargo on Israel and the boycott of Israeli universities involved in weapons research, had previously made waves in 2003 with the publication of an article claiming that Osama bin Laden was framed for 9/11.
Despite his announcement last year that he would appoint a special envoy for Jewish affairs to communicate with the local community, it was not until this week that he sat down for a face to face meeting with the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the representative arm of organized British Jewry.
Following the meeting, the board stated that there had been “welcome agreement in some key policy areas, but that there were still matters on which the Labor leader could make firmer commitments.”
Anti-Semitism is a growing problem in the UK, with the Community Security Trust (CST), a community watchdog, recently stating that the country witnessed the third-highest number of anti-Semitic hate incidents in one year in 2015, with 924 reported.
This, however, constituted a 22 percent drop in incidents from 2014’s record high of 1,179 – a spike CST had attributed to the war with Hamas in the Gaza Strip in the summer of 2014.
Israeli military operations frequently lead to increased anti-Semitism in the UK and other European countries. In London alone, anti-Semitic incidents rose more than 60 last year.
Arkush said the meeting marked the beginning of a new dialogue but, despite Corbyn’s conciliatory move, was insistent that the politician should do more to “address profound and real concerns about past meetings with people or organizations with extremist or anti-Semitic views,” adding that the board would seek “more clarity” from the Labor leadership “that it will maintain its longstanding opposition of boycotts against Israel.”
In December, the Telegraph reported that Corbyn had attended, and later lauded, a pro-Palestinian rally in 2014 in which several of his associates praised Hamas for its “resistance” against Israel.
“The media and politicians in this country and all over the Western world would have you believe that the cause of this suffering and this carnage is the rockets of Hamas that are fired into Israel. That is to turn reality on its head,” Corbyn’s director of communications reportedly told the gathering.
“The Palestinian people have the right, as any occupied people under law and under all political and legal conventions – the right to resist. Israel, as an illegal occupying power, has one obligation, and that is to withdraw.
Even now, despite the horrific casualties, Hamas is not broken and will not be broken because of the spirit of resistance of the Palestinian people.”
Arkush and Corbyn plan to hold a follow-up discussion later this year, Arkush said.Jeremy Sharon and JTA contributed to this report.