LONDON – The office of the embattled leader of the British Labour Party claimed Sunday that Jeremy Corbyn was set to meet Israel’s ambassador to the United Kingdom next week. But the embassy, which asked for a meeting between Ambassador Mark Regev and the outspoken critic of Israel more than two months ago, was unaware of anything being scheduled.
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Regev is due to speak Sunday evening at Haaretz’s first-ever Israel Conference in London.
The issue of engagement with the Labour Party has been a dilemma for Israeli diplomats since Corbyn’s surprise victory in Labour’s leadership contest nearly10 months ago.
At the time, there was no accredited Israeli ambassador to Britain. But when Regev – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s former spokesman – arrived in London two months ago, his office requested a meeting with Corbyn. According to embassy sources, they are yet to receive a firm response from Corbyn’s office.
Last Thursday, at the launch of its report on anti-Semitism and racism within the Labour Party, Corbyn angered many Israel supporters and members of the Jewish community when he appeared to compare Israel to the Islamic State group.
“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 organizations,” he said. Later, Labour’s Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry called Regev to apologize for the comment.
Asked by Haaretz, Corbyn’s communications chief, Seumas Milne, said a meeting with Ambassador Regev is planned to take place next Monday (July 11), and that an earlier meeting had been postponed due to Corbyn’s campaigning ahead of last month’s Brexit referendum.
However, Israeli embassy spokesman Yiftah Curiel said the ambassador’s office was unaware that a date had been set for the meeting.
Corbyn is currently under heavy pressure from his own parliamentary party to resign: He lost a no-confidence vote 172-40 last week. One of the main reasons for the vote was the feeling among Labour MPs that Corbyn hadn’t campaigned energetically or wholeheartedly in favor of remaining in the European Union – the party’s official position – and had only attended a handful of campaign events before the June 24 referendum.
Israeli diplomats have been offended by Corbyn before – most notably when he attended and spoke at a meeting of the Labour Friends of Israel at last year’s party conference, but failed to mention the word “Israel” even once in his address.
The feeling now is that his staff is claiming Corbyn is willing to meet the ambassador in an attempt to assuage those in his party who have criticized his anti-Israel positions.