U.K. Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn addressed Wednesday questions about his commitment to combating anti-Semitism, but stopped short of apologizing or proposing a specific course of action in an interview with a leading British Jewish newspaper.
On Monday, thousands marched in London's Parliament Square against what they perceive to be pervasive anti-Semitic sentiments in the Labour party.
Corbyn supporters said Thursday that the protest was the work of a "very powerful special interest group." The letter, which was "liked" by over 2,000 members of the "We Support Jeremy Corbyn" Facebook group, claimed organizers used their "immense strength" to "employ the full might of the BBC." The person who posted the letter later deleted the post, which sparked further allegations of anti-Semitism.
In his interview with the Jewish News, Corbyn asserted that "anti-Semitism is a poison and evil and wrong that brought about genocide of the Holocaust against the Jewish people."
Asked to defend himself against accusations of anti-Semitism, he repeatedly referred to his political stances on Israel.
"It’s what our parents’ generation fought to defeat," Corbyn said. "I think there has to be a process to bring about peace in the Middle East and that has to involve justice for the Palestinian people and, as I’ve consistently repeated, an end to the occupation and the settlement policy so that Palestinians can also grow up in peace and their own security."
Corbyn discussed his involvement in Palestinian campaigns and defended himself against suggestions that he cares more about Palestinian rights than allegations of anti-Semitism. He was asked specifically about his relationship with Raed Salah, the leader of the Israel's outlawed Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement, who has been accused of supporting blood libel and inciting violence. Corbyn was also asked about his reference to Hamas and Hezbollah as "friends."
"Clearly I do not support their views," responded Corbyn, "but recognize – and I'm sure everyone else does – that there has to be a peace process that involves all groups in the Middle East."
Anti-Semitism, Corbyn argued, is not a widespread issue within pro-Palestinian activism, but rather a problem within society in general. To support this assertion, he claimed that within Labour only a fraction of party membership have been accused, flagged or investigated for anti-Semitism.
Asked whether his key supporters can rightly call allegations of anti-Semitism smears, Corbyn said "I'm not an anti-Semite in any form, therefore it's unfair to say that."
When pressed about the British Jewish community's concern about the party's alleged anti-Semitism, Corbyn said: "I was among those who helped prevent building over the Jewish cemetery. There's been a massive contribution made by Jewish activists and intellectuals to the Labour movement in Britain, they were there at the founding of the party."
As to whether he supported a counter-demonstration to the one held against anti-Semitism in Labour, Corbyn stated: "I don't support either demonstrations. It's up to the people where and what they demonstrate about. I don't think it's my job to tell people what they should and shouldn't demonstrate."
Corbyn evaded identifying as a Zionist, reiterating instead his support for peace. "A Labour government would be fully engaged in bringing about [peace] – that involves recognition of the state of Palestine, an end to the settlement policy and occupation and a two-state future."
The interview concluded with Corbyn saying he plans to visit Israel "at some point" and meet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.