Jeremy Corbyn was engulfed in a fresh row over Israel when he appeared to compare the government of Binyamin Netanyahu to Islamic State at the launch of an independent review into antisemitism in the Labour party.
In prepared remarks, Corbyn said: “Our Jewish friends are no more responsible for the actions of Israel or the Netanyahu government than our Muslim friends are for those of various self-styled Islamic states or organisations.”
Later, in response to a question met with jeers from an audience with a strong pro-Corbyn presence, the Labour leader denied he had compared Israel to Islamic State. However, he made a further apparent reference to Islamic State.
“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,” he said.
A spokesman for Corbyn later clarified that the Labour leader had in his speech been referring to states of an Islamic character, giving the examples of Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Iran or Hamas in Gaza.
The report (pdf), published on Thursday 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”.
Responding to the report, Jonathan Arkush, president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, welcomed Chakrabarti’s rejection of abusive language, including the word “Zio” and her rejection of Hitler and Holocaust metaphors.
But he added: “It is deeply regrettable that [Corbyn] went on to establish some sort of equivalence between Israel and terrorist groups such as Isis. This is completely unacceptable.”
He and Shami Chakrabarti, the author of the report into antisemitism, declined to comment on remarks made by the former London mayor Ken Livingstone, who was suspended by the party after saying Adolf Hitler had supported Zionism. Livingstone was still under investigation, said Chakrabarti, so “it would be completely wrong to comment”.
More broadly, she said epithets such as “Zio” and “Paki” had no place in Labour party discourse, along with racial or religious tropes and stereotypes about any group of people.
“Critical and abusive reference to any particular person or group based on actual or perceived physical characteristics cannot be tolerated,” said the report’s conclusions.
The Labour MP Ruth Smeeth walked out of the press conference after being accused of colluding with the Daily Telegraph in a row over leaflets allegedly describing MPs opposed to Corbyn’s continued leadership as “traitors”.
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.
Chakrabarti made a string of recommendations about Labour party procedural rules, but said no one should face a lifetime ban. There should a moratorium following the report’s publication before any further disciplinary actions are taken, “to give people an opportunity to learn and go forward”, she said.
Corbyn, who was greeted with whoops and cheers as he stood at the podium, criticised “hateful language” used by some of the most prominent pro-leave campaigners in the referendum debate, naming Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and Nigel Farage.
He acknowledged that he had had a “torrid few days”. When he was elected as Labour leader he had called for kinder, gentler politics, he said. “Sadly, this is still a work in progress.”
Danny Rich, senior rabbi of Liberal Judaism, said although he did not believe the Labour party was institutionally antisemitic, Livingstone’s comments and other rhetoric had made an independent inquiry necessary.
He added: “Jeremy Corbyn’s comment at the press conference, which paralleled Israel and Islamic State, makes me wonder whether he, at least, has learned anything at all from the inquiry.”
- This story was amended on June 30 to correct the quotation in the second paragraph. An earlier version quoted Corbyn as saying: “Our Jewish friends are no more responsible for the actions for the actions of Israel or the Netanyahu government than our Islamic friends are responsible for Islamic State”.
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