(JTA) — Repeated anti-Semitic incidents involving members of the United Kingdom’s Labour party show it must work harder to fix the problem, Israel’s envoy to the fight against anti-Semitism said.
Gideon Behar, the director of the Israeli foreign ministry’s Department for Combating Antisemitism, spoke with JTA amid reports of a fresh string of hate speech by Labour members — including one man’s threat to hang the Jewish Labour lawmaker Ruth Smeets, whom he called a Yid.
Behar’s criticism and the incident involving Smeets come approximately two months after Labour published the findings of an internal probe on its anti-Semitism problem in a report that leaders of British Jewry called a whitewash.
“I think the internal probe is not yet complete and it requires long-term work,” said Behar, who will be leaving his post this month after five years on the job, when asked about the findings compiled by Labour politician Shami Chakrabarti on the party’s anti-Semitism problem. She said it was regretful but anecdotal and not pervasive.
“More work is necessary to understand how anti-Semitic speech by various party officials has become widespread, and how to stop it,” Behar added.
Israeli diplomats rarely comment on individual political parties in the United Kingdom. Jonathan Arkush, the president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, which is a nonpartisan organization, earlier this year also made the unusual move of saying that Jews “can’t trust” Labour under Corbyn.
Behar’s comments came amid a string of fresh scandals involving anti-Semitism within Labour under Jeremy Corbyn, a far-left politician whose election to head the party last year brought an influx of thousands of new members. Many others left the party or stopped supporting it over concerns with regard to the radical positions of Corbyn, who in 2009 called Hamas and Hezbollah his friends, though he has since said he regretted saying this.
British counterterrorism police are investigating the man who threatened to hang Smeets, The Sun on Thursday reported. The suspect, who was not named, is believed to be a Corbyn supporter, The Sun reported.
The threat was issued in July, soon after Smeets fled the launch of Labour’s report into anti-Semitism in tears after being accused by an activist of Momentum – a Labour-affiliated movement supportive of Corbyn — of colluding with the right-wing press.
Marie van der Zyl, the vice president of the Jewish board, called on Labour’s leadership to “condemn online antisemitic hate” against Smeets, calling the comments about her “disgusting antisemitic slurs and violent threats” that “show the depths which some so-called Labour supporters are plumbing.” The party, she said, “needs to act to drain the cesspit of antisemitism that has become so apparent in recent months.”
Separately, another Labour member, Terence Flanagan, was suspended after a series of offensive remarks on Jews, Nazis and the Mossad, The Jewish News reported Friday.
Corbyn has vowed to suspend anyone caught making vitriolic statements about Israel and Jews, though this policy has not been fully applied. In May, Labour did suspend Ken Livingstone, a former mayor of London, who said and later insisted that Adolf Hitler was a Zionist.
In the interview with JTA, Behar condemned a growing tendency in Western Europe to “drag the Holocaust into discussions about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” as he defined it. The Jewish genocide, he said, “is part of European history, and is the foundation upon which European democracies are built.”
But in countries with many Muslim immigrants, he said, teachers in many schools are finding it increasingly difficult to teach about the Holocaust because of resistance by pupils. “This is a problem that I think is one of the major challenges facing European education systems,” he said.
Behar added that the Israeli foreign ministry focuses on supporting four strategies in the fight against anti-Semitism: Legislation and enforcement, education, interfaith dialog and tools to reduce hate speech online.