Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of Britain’s Labour Party, compared Israel to the Islamic State terrorist group during a speech Thursday on antisemitism.
"Our Jewish friends are no more responsible for the actions of Israel or the [Benjamin] Netanyahu government than our Muslim friends are for those various self-styled Islamic states or organizations," Corbyn said at the launch of Labour’s new report on antisemitism, which was led by Shami Chakrabarti, the director of a civil liberties advocacy group based in the United Kingdom.
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Corbyn’s remarks drew loud applause from the audience at the event.
Many listeners interpreted the Labour leader’s statement as a direct comparison between the Israeli government and ISIS. Several other jihadist groups, such as the Taliban in Afghanistan and al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula based in Yemen, also strive to build Islamic states governed by Sharia law, or Islamic law, in a similar manner to ISIS’ rule in parts of Iraq and Syria.
Sam Stopp, a Labour councillor, said that Corbyn compared Israel to ISIS and wrote on Twitter, "For that alone, he should resign. I am red with fury," according to the Independent, a British newspaper.
The Independent also reported that Ruth Smeeth, a Labour member of Parliament who is Jewish, "left the event in tears after a member of the Momentum group ‘accused her of colluding with the Daily Telegraph,’" a right-leaning British paper.
Corbyn defended his statement, saying "of course I’m not" linking the two.
"In the report, it says that you shouldn’t say to somebody just because you’re Jewish you must have an opinion on Israel, just as much as you shouldn’t say to a Muslim that you must have an opinion on ISIS," Corbyn said.
A spokesperson for the Labour leader told the Independent that Corbyn "explicitly" said "that people should not be held responsible for the actions of states or organizations around the world on the basis of religion or ethnicity."
Corbyn said during his speech that name-calling and the use of epithets or stereotyping have no place in the Labour Party.
"To assume that a Jewish friend or fellow member is wealthy, part of some kind of financial or media conspiracy, or takes a particular position on politics in general or on Israel and on Palestine, in particular, is just wrong," Corbyn said. "Modern antisemitism may not always be about overt violence and persecution, though there is too much of that even to this day. We must also be vigilant against subtler and invidious manifestations of this nasty ancient hatred and avoid slipping into its traps by accident or intent."
Corbyn added that he "will continue as Labour Leader to pursue the causes of peace and justice in Israel-Palestine, the wider Middle East and all over the world. But those who claim to do so with hateful or inflammatory language do no service to anyone, especially dispossessed and oppressed people in need of better advocacy."
Corbyn’s speech came during the launch of Labour’s report on antisemitism, which gives 20 recommendations. The inquiry found that the Labour Party is not overrun by antisemitism but has an "occasionally toxic atmosphere" with "too much clear evidence … of ignorant attitudes."
The report came in the aftermath of Labour MP Naz Shah’s suspension for suggesting on Facebook that Israeli Jews should be moved to the United States to "solve" the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Ex-London mayor Ken Livingstone was suspended from the Labour Party for blasting Shah’s punishment and for saying that Hitler supported Zionism.
Corbyn is under pressure to step down as head of the Labour Party after losing a no-confidence vote as a growing number of British leaders are calling for his ouster after Britain voted to leave the European Union last week. Angela Eagle is challenging Corbyn to lead Labour.