UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn lambasted Israel on Wednesday in his keynote speech at the party’s annual conference, condemning “the continuing occupation,” Palestinian casualties at the Gaza border and the recently approved Nation-State Law, which he said is “discriminatory.”
Corbyn also reiterated comments, made earlier this week and in June, that any future government he may head would immediately recognize a Palestinian state.
On Tuesday, the conference adopted a motion by an overwhelming majority to call for an arms embargo against Israel due to the IDF’s response to border protests, infiltration attempts, terrorist attacks and airborne incendiary-device attacks.
Nevertheless, Corbyn said during his speech on Wednesday that his party is an “ally” of the Jewish people, and that it would work with the UK Jewish community to wipe out antisemitism from the Labour Party and wider society.
His comments on antisemitism were dismissed by the Board of Deputies of British Jews, which said that only actions matter when combating antisemitism in the Labour Party.
Corbyn’s speech was the culmination of Labour’s three-day annual conference, and comes following a summer in which the party and Corbyn himself have been battered by numerous allegations and revelations of antisemitism.
Rival protests as Labour's ruling body holds antisemitism talks, September 4, 2018 (Reuters)
“Our party is united in condemning the shooting of hundreds of unarmed demonstrators in Gaza by Israeli forces and the passing of Israel’s discriminatory Nation-State Law,” said the Labour leader. “The continuing occupation, the expansion of illegal settlements and the imprisonment of Palestinian children are an outrage.”
He said Labour “support[s] a two-state solution to the conflict with a secure Israel and a viable and secure Palestinian state,” but that “a quarter of a century on from the Oslo Accords, we are no closer to justice or peace and the Palestinian tragedy continues, while the outside world stands by.”
Corbyn also addressed the antisemitism crisis that has engulfed the party in recent months.
Labour’s decision in July to adopt a redacted version of an internationally recognized definition of antisemitism without consulting with the Jewish community caused huge controversy and opposition from UK Jews.
“The row over antisemitism has caused immense hurt and anxiety in the Jewish community and great dismay in the Labour Party. But I hope we can work together to draw a line under it,” said Corbyn in his speech.
“We will work with Jewish communities to eradicate antisemitism, both from our party and wider society,” he said, adding he would help in the fight “with every breath” he has.
The Board of Deputies of British Jews was, however, unimpressed with the Labour leader’s declaration, saying that “Jeremy Corbyn’s words mean nothing until Labour takes the necessary steps to deal with antisemitism in its ranks.”
ONE OF the central complaints of the Board of Deputies and other communal organizations has been the foot-dragging and severe delays that have characterized the Labour Party’s response to antisemitism allegations among its ranks since Corbyn took over as leader.
Board of Deputies president Marie van der Zyl said that only actions matter, and that Labour could be considered an antiracist party only when it ejects antisemites from its ranks, disciplines those who deny that antisemitism is a problem, provides training and education on antisemitism, and when Corbyn himself offers “a heartfelt apology to British Jews and to Israeli victims of the terrorists with whom he has shown solidarity.”
“Labour cannot ‘draw a line under’ this crisis and regain any shred of confidence from the Jewish community until this takes place,” she said.
Earlier on Wednesday, the Board of Deputies and the Labour Friends of Israel organization both criticized a motion, passed by the Labour Party’s annual conference on Tuesday, calling for an arms sales boycott against Israel.
Van der Zyl strongly defended UK arms sales to Israel, pointing to the security threats Israel faces and UK-Israel security cooperation. To halt such cooperation could be detrimental to the security of British citizens, she said.
“Israel is situated in a region of unique turmoil and threat, faced with implacable enemies determined to kill civilians and ultimately destroy Israel in its entirety. This includes terrorist organizations who in the past few years have murdered hundreds of Jewish and Arab civilians,” said van der Zyl.
“It is absolutely right to provide arms for the country’s defense,” she continued, adding that an arms embargo could threaten British jobs and security.
“Decreasing military cooperation, including arms sales, could endanger British civilians and assets in both the Middle East and in the UK,” she added, saying that the Board of Deputies was “disappointed but not surprised” with the motion, which she described as “irresponsible” and “misguided.”
The Labour Friends of Israel parliamentary group was also critical of the motion, with LFI director Jennifer Gerber calling it “deeply disturbing but sadly unsurprising.”
“One-sided resolutions, denunciations of the world’s only Jewish state, antisemitic conspiracy theories and an abject failure to recognize the existential threats posed to Israel, show that this is a party which is no longer remotely serious about peace,” Gerber said.
Since late March, tens of thousands of Palestinians in Gaza have taken part in “March of Return” protests at the Gaza border fence against Israel.
These protests have been accompanied by numerous attempts to infiltrate Israel, attacks on IDF personnel with explosives, and the launching of hundreds of airborne incendiary devices into Israel, which have caused large-scale fires in Israel.
According to the Hamas-run Gaza Ministry of Health, close to 180 Palestinians have been killed by IDF operations
in response to the protests and other incidents, and thousands injured.
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