Britain’s opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn was engulfed in a fresh row over Israel when he appeared to compare the government of Binyamin Netanyahu to the Islamic State terror group at the launch of an independent review of anti-Semitism in the U.K. Labour Party on Thursday.
At the launch of a report into allegations of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party, Corbyn stressed that no form of racism was acceptable. But he added that “our Jewish friends are no more responsible for the actions of Israel or the Netanyahu government than our Islamic friends are responsible for Islamic State.”
His words sparked immediate controversy.
Later, in response to a question, the Labour leader denied that he had intended to make a comparison between Israel and terror groups.
“The point is that you shouldn’t say to someone that just because they’re Jewish you must have an opinion on Israel, any more that you say to anyone who’s a Muslim you must have an opinion on the vile actions being taken by people misquoting the good name of Islam in what they do,” Corbyn said.
The report, published after a two-month inquiry, said Labour members “should resist the use of Hitler, Nazi and Holocaust metaphors, distortions and comparisons in debates about Israel-Palestine.”
There were also claims that a Jewish MP, Ruth Smeeth, was verbally attacked by a Momentum supporter at the event in London.
The inquiry, chaired by former Liberty boss Shami Chakrabarti, found that the Labour Party is not overrun by anti-Semitism or other forms of racism but there is an “occasionally toxic atmosphere.”
The probe followed the suspension of MP Naz Shah and ex-London mayor Ken Livingstone amid anti-Semitism claims, which they both denied.
Corbyn stressed “The Labour Party will not allow hateful language online or anywhere else.
“Racism is racism is racism. There is no hierarchy, no acceptable form of it.”
Corbyn refused to take questions on the challenge to his leadership or whether he intended to remain at the helm of the party. “I am the leader,” he said.
Corbyn and Chakrabarti, the author of the report, declined to comment on remarks made by former London Mayor Ken Livingstone, who was suspended by the party after saying Adolf Hitler had supported Zionism. Because Livingstone is still under investigation, Chakrabarti said “it would be completely wrong to comment.”
The Labour Party faces a potential leadership battle, with lawmakers having voted no confidence in left-wing party leader Jeremy Corbyn, who refuses to step down.
The vacuum at the top of both major political parties has added to the political uncertainty at a time when Britain faces its biggest constitutional change since the dissolution of its empire in the decades after World War II.
Rabbi Avrohom Pinter, the principal of Yesodey HaTorah Schools in London’s Stamford Hill, a former Labour local councilor and a well-known askan involved in numerous projects, was present at the launch of the Labour Party’s report on anti-Semitism. The much-anticipated report was revealed, according to Rabbi Pinter, in a ‘toxic’ atmosphere, which was not aided by Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn appearing to compare the government of Israel to IS.
Commenting on the report, Rabbi Pinter told Hamodia, “I believe this is a step in the right direction. However, I don’t think it has gone far enough.” The report tells Labour members that offensive epithets referring to a person’s ethnicity “should have no place in Labour Party discourse” and nor should “racial or religious tropes and stereotypes about any group of people.” Rabbi Pinter observed, “It’s very sad that it is necessary to state this formally.”
He told Hamodia, “From my personal experience, there is certainly anti-Semitism in the Labour Party. It is not ‘overrun’ with it as had been suggested, but it is definitely present.”
Rabbi Pinter described Mr. Corbyn’s comment that “Our Jewish friends are no more responsible for the actions of Israel than our Muslim friends are for the self-styled Islamic State” as “rather unfortunate.” He said, “This is symptomatic of the feeling that exists in many sections of the Labour Party. One can disagree with the policies of the Israeli government, but to compare the democratically elected representatives of a sovereign state to a terrorist regime who publicly behead people, is completely unacceptable.”