Quartet Middle East envoy Tony Blair and President Shimon Peres
Quartet Middle East envoy Tony Blair, left, and President Shimon Peres during a conference in Tel Aviv in 2008. Photo by Archive
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President Shimon Peres provoked a media backlash in the United Kingdom on Sunday after giving an interview to a Jewish magazine in which he appeared to label the British as anti-Semitic.

"There is in England a saying that an anti-Semite is someone who hates the Jews more than is necessary," Peres said.

Peres' comments, made on July 26, were buried deep in a lengthy interview with historian Benny Morris for Tablet magazine. But they were eventually picked up by the U.K.'s Daily Telegraph, which reported that the president had angered both Jews and non-Jews in the U.K.

According to the Telegraph, the comments sparked outrage. "Mr Peres has got this wrong," James Clappison, a Conservative MP for Hertsmere and vice-chairman of Conservative Friends of Israel, was quoted as saying.

In the interview, Peres apparently accused British parliamentarians of pandering to the country's Muslim voters.

"Our next big problem is England," Peres said. "There are several million Muslim voters. And for many members of parliament, that’s the difference between getting elected and not getting elected. And in England there has always been something deeply pro-Arab, of course, not among all Englishmen, and anti-Israeli, in the establishment."

Britain had a history of anti-Israeli policy, Peres said.

"They abstained in the [pro-Zionist] 1947 U.N. Partition Resolution, despite [issuing the pro-Zionist] Balfour Declaration [in 1917]. They maintained an arms embargo against us [in the 1950s]; they had a defense treaty with Jordan; they always worked against us."

He added: "[T]hey think the Palestinians are the underdog. In their eyes the Arabs are the underdog. Even though this is irrational. Take the Gaza Strip. We unilaterally evacuated the Gaza. We evacuated 8,000 settlers and it was very difficult…Why did they fire rockets at us, for years they fired rockets at us. Why?"

The U.K. had stood by as Israel had faced violence from Hamas Peres said.

"For eight years they fired and we refrained from retaliating. When they fired at us, the British didn’t say a word."

In making his feeling on Britain known, Peres was widely seen as responding to remarks made last week by U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron, who during a trip to Turkey accused Israel of turning Gaza into a "prison camp".

Cameron's choice of words caused particular irritation in Israel as his speech lacked the 'balancing remarks' considered normal in diplomatic etiquette, omitting any mention of terror attacks against Israel or the continuing imprisonment of Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier captured by Hamas four years ago.