Britain's leader of the opposition Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
It is crucial for British leadership to stand up and condemn anti-Semitism in unequivocal terms, Ambassador to the UK Mark Regev said on Sunday, stressing that there is a clear distinction between criticism of Israel and hate speech.
Regev’s comments to the BBC’s Andrew Marr, during his first televised interview since taking up his post last month, came as manifestations of anti-Semitism inside the British Labor Party are dominating public debate just days before local elections in London, Scotland and Wales.
Regev said it was “naive” to say that anti-Semitism is only a problem of the far Right, adding that while the socialist Left has had a proud history of fighting anti-Semitism, it has also been plagued by anti-Semitism.
Asked if he thought anti-Semitism was “alive and well in the current Labor Party,” he replied: “Well, we have definitely seen some language in the last two or three weeks that is definitely concerning,” adding that the redline between legitimate criticism of Israeli policy and anti-Semitism was crossed.
On Thursday, former London mayor Ken Livingstone said that Hitler was “supporting Zionism” in 1932 when he proposed Jews be moved to Israel.
Two days later, he defended those comments by saying he was merely stating facts acknowledged last year by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, when he said that Hitler initially wanted to expel the Jews, until Jerusalem’s Mufti Haj Amin al-Hussein called for their extermination.
The Labor Party, reeling from the comments just days before mayoral elections in London where the Jewish vote is significant, suspended Livingstone and opened an inquiry into how to tackle anti-Semitism and racism in the party.
Last Wednesday, Labor MP Naz Shah was suspended after calling for Israel to be “relocated” to America.
Two weeks earlier a Labor councilor, Aysegul Gurbuz, was suspended following tweets in which she referred to Hitler as the “greatest man in history” and hoped Iran would “wipe Israel off the map.”
This was preceded in March by Vicki Kirby, the vice chairwoman of Labor’s Woking Branch, tweeting that Jews have “big noses” and “slaughter the oppressed.”
Regev said he would “love to meet” Labor Party head Jeremy Corbyn, who has been criticized from within his own party for not seriously tackling the anti-Semitism in its midst, and who in the past has referred to Hamas and Hezbollah as hivs “friends.”
Without referring to Corbyn by name, Regev said it is important for “leadership” not to be “neutral or agnostic” about anti-Semitism.
“I’ll give you an example,” he said. “You’ve had too many people on the progressive side of politics who have embraced Hamas and Hezbollah. Both of them are anti-Semitic organizations, you just have to read Hamas’s charter and it’s like chapters straight out of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
“Yet some progressive politicians have embraced Hamas.
Now, I’d ask the following question: If you’re progressive, you’re embracing an organization which is homophobic, which is misogynistic, which is openly anti-Semitic, what’s progressive about that?” he asked. “I think there has to be an unequivocal message from leadership saying there is no solidarity with anti-Semites.”
Regev said it was impossible to imagine someone from Labor sharing a platform with an anti- Black racist or someone spouting hatred of homosexuals. Why then, he asked, “can you share a platform with someone who is openly anti-Semitic.”
Despite Livingstone bringing Netanyahu into the argument by referencing his quote about the mufti, the Prime Minister’s Office has not waded into the debate.
Meanwhile, the comments have thrust the issue of anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism to the forefront of the public debate in the United Kingdom.
A British YouGov poll on Saturday found that 45 percent of those surveyed said that Livingstone should have been suspended from the Labor Party for his comments, while 22% said he should not have been, and 33% did not know.
While 60% of the 4,406 UK adults polled on Friday said that it was not anti-Semitic to criticize the Israeli government, 53% said that “hating Israel and questioning its right to exist” does constitute anti-Semitism.