Members of parliaments from around the world pose with Speaker of the Knesset Yuli Edelstein during the conference. .
(photo credit: YITZHAK HARARI)
“I want to start by offering… an apology for the distress and offense that members of the Labour Party have caused,” British parliamentarian Ian Austin told a group of MKs and members of foreign parliaments from around the world Tuesday at the opening of the three-day Knesset Conference for Chairs of Parliamentary Friendship Groups with Israel.
“We’ve seen outrageous comparisons [from Labour members] between the actions of Israel and the crimes of the Nazis; singling out the world’s only Jewish state for boycotts and sanctions,” he said. “I think this is antisemitism, pure and simple, and I want to promise you that we’ll do all we can to rid British politics of this poison.”
Speaking to The Jerusalem Post
during the conference, Austin said, “I think the main representatives of the Jewish community in the UK… have sent out a series of reasonable requests to the leadership of the Labour party, and I think that the leadership of the Labour Party has got to respond properly to them.”
During the question-and-answer session following the opening remarks by Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, Jan Krzysztof Ardanowski, Poland's Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, referenced Poland’s long Jewish history and experience during World War II, saying through an interpreter, “I would like to ask what we may do now in order to develop our relations, in order to face this history but also to develop our friendship [with Israel].”
Edelstein responded by directly referencing the current controversy surrounding Polish legislation about discussing the Holocaust, which resurfaced last week when the Israeli and Polish governments released a controversial joint statement about the law and Holocaust history.
“I don’t think it’s a secret to many people in this room that there was tension between Israel and Poland regarding recent legislation [about the Holocaust]… we have to be very honest when we address the issue of the Holocaust,” Edelstein said.
Mentioning that Poland and other countries had a mix of gentiles who saved Jews in the Holocaust and gentiles who collaborated with the Nazis, Edelstein said, “Unfortunately I don't think there were many nations where there were more righteous of the nations than those who collaborated with the Nazis… We have to be very honest [about the Holocaust], and most importantly, we have to [each] educate our own people.”
Edelstein called for more dialogue and understanding regarding the Holocaust, and said that Israel will continue to raise it as an issue even with countries it now has relations with. “All this misunderstanding… could be avoided if it were about a dialogue… and not unilateral steps,” he said.
Regarding tackling antisemitism within the British Labour party, Austin said he believes Labour should adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism in full, and that “anybody responsible for antisemitism is kicked out of the Labour party; they have no place in that party, they [should be] booted out.”
Austin, who is a member of the Labour Friends of Israel, also called on Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn – who has been criticized for not dealing with antisemitism and anti-Israel sentiment within his party – to visit Jerusalem and meet with Israeli political leaders.
He also said he does not believe the upheaval in British politics that exploded on Sunday, when foreign secretary Boris Johnson and others resigned from the government, will affect the UK’s relationship with Israel.
The three-day conference brought together MKs and members of parliament from other countries who are members of their government’s Israel friendship group. The conference includes tours of Jerusalem’s Old City, a visit to the Gaza border, and a viewing with MKs of Tuesday night’s Belgium-France World Cup semifinal.
No representative of the United States was at Tuesday’s meeting. Speaker of the Knesset Yuli Edelstein (Likud) noted the US does not have a parliamentary friendship group like the governments represented at the conference. He added that he had reached out to Speaker of the US House of Representatives, Paul Ryan, but that nothing had come of it for this conference.