The new leader of Britain's opposition Labor Party Jeremy Corbyn.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Karl Marx admirer and Israel critic Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader of Britain's opposition Labor party on Saturday, while Tom Watson, known for his role in the parliamentary investigation into phone hacking by UK newspapers, won the deputy leadership contest.
Corbyn won 59.5 percent of the ballots cast, or 251,417 votes, in the leadership, winning in the first round. When the results were announced he was cheered and hugged, even by his rivals.
Corbyn defeated two former Labor ministers, Yvette Cooper and Andy Burnham, as well as Liz Kendall, regarded as the heir to former Prime Minister Tony Blair.
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 contribution to foreign affairs debates include diatribes about the behavior of Israeli troops or abuses of Palestinian human rights.
Four years ago, he actively supported the right of Raed Salah, the leader of the Islamic Movement’s Northern Branch in Israel, to address meetings in Britain despite clear Home Office opposition. English courts accepted that Salah had previously invoked anti-Semitic blood libel, but arrangements to deport him fell apart.
Corbyn in the past has called terrorist organizations such as Hamas and Hezbollah "friends." The far-leftist has also been dogged by allegations of anti-Semitism
The British Jewish community has expressed misgivings about Corbyn.
Corbyn, who initially did not expect to win the contest, has struck a chord with many Labor supporters by repudiating the pro-business consensus of former leader Tony Blair. Instead he has offered wealth taxes, nuclear disarmament and ambiguity about EU membership.
"Can I start by thanking everyone who took part in this election, this huge democratic exercise of more than half a million people all across this country," Corbyn said after his victory was announced, striking a unifying note as he addressed the Labor Party conference.
His victory reflects growing popular support for left-wing movements across Europe, with Syriza taking power in Greece and Spain's anti-austerity party Podemos performing well in opinion polls.
Corbyn's rise also has an echo of the way Senator Bernie Sanders has galvanized left-leaning Democrats in his bid to beat Hillary Clinton to the party's nomination for the US presidential race.
However, the scale of division Corbyn's victory has created in his own party was immediately laid bare with one Labor lawmaker quitting his role as a health spokesman while Corbyn was making his acceptance speech.
Others quickly followed, saying they would not serve in his senior team.
Corbyn has offered wealth taxes and ambiguity about EU membership. He is a strong opponent of military strikes in Syria, meaning it would be harder for Prime Minister David Cameron to win parliamentary support to bomb Islamic State targets there.
A left-winger and parliamentary veteran with a long history of voting against his own party, Corbyn triumphed on a message of promising to increase government investment though money-printing and renationalising vast swathes of the economy.
The prospect of a return to the party's socialist roots has drawn stark warnings that they will be annihilated in 2020 national elections by a British public that in May re-elected Cameron for a second term on a promise to cut spending.
Jerry Lewis and Herb Keinon contributed to this report.