Israel's U.K. Ambassador: Labour Has an anti-Semitism Problem

Speaking at Haaretz's Israel Conference in London, Ambassador Mark Regev says 'just because you are on the left, you aren’t immune to anti-Semitism.'

Israel's ambassador to the U.K. Mark Regev at Haaretz's Israel Conference in London, Sunday, July 3, 2016.
Shai Dolev

Israel's ambassador to the U.K. Mark Regev said that the Labour Party has an anti-Semitism problem on Sunday.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and other members of his party have made “problematic” statements, Regev said at Haaretz's Israel Conference in London, adding that he believes “when Corbyn looks at himself, he really doesn’t believe he has any racism or anti-Semitism.”  

“There are some people on the left in Europe and in this country who are in denial,” Regev said, and needed to understand that “just because you are on the left, you aren’t immune to anti-Semitism."

When Haaretz correspondent Barak Ravid, who interviewed him onstage, tried to pin him down and ask if that meant he believed Labour had an anti-Semitism problem, Regev pivoted to an observation that the party had set up a committee on the subject because they themselves believed they had a problem. 

Peter Nicholls/Reuters

"And what do you think?” Ravid insisted. The ambassador responded: “I agree with their assessment.” 

The report, which was released last Thursday, cleared Labour of accusations of anti-Semitism, but said that there is an "occasionally toxic atmosphere." Talking at the launch of the report, Corbyn raised an uproar by drawing an odd parallel between Israel and ISIS. "Our Jewish friends are no more responsible for the actions of Israel than our Muslim friends are for self-styled Islamic states or organizations," Corbyn told party members.

Regev said he had asked Corbyn for a meeting to discuss this and other matters, and that he hoped they can meet soon.

Earlier in the day, Corbyn’s office told Haaretz that he was set to meet the ambassador next week, an account which conflicted with the Israeli embassy’s, which said it was unaware of anything being scheduled, and had been seeking a meeting with Corbyn for two months. 

In other remarks, Regev called for an end to the “travesty” of law enforcement officials summoning Israeli politicians for questioning when they enter the country, calling the treatment of former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and other Israeli officials a case of "exploiting legal loopholes for political purposes."

Livni, who traveled to London to attend the Israel Conference, had to be granted special diplomatic immunity following a police summons issued to question her in connection with alleged war crimes during Operation Cast Lead in Gaza in 2008, when she was foreign minister, vice prime minister and a member of the diplomatic-security cabinet.

The repeated occurrences of Israeli military and political officials receiving these summons when in the U.K., which have been going on for more than a decade, “should have already ended,” Regev said at the Israel Conference. The practice, he said, was unjustifiable, as it was based on a law designed for war criminals in countries which did not have functioning legal systems. In Israel, “our courts are fiercely independent,” Regev added.  

Political and military leaders have been issued with arrest warrants in the U.K. in the past, and some have cancelled trips to the country when tipped off that there were plans to issue them warrants or bring them in for questioning.

Israel's new ambassador to England, Mark Regev, meeting Queen Elizabeth during a private audience at Buckingham Palace, London, June 24, 2016.
Dominic Lipinsk/Reuters

Regev received his credentials as Israel’s ambassador a week ago, after years as a media adviser in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office. Onstage at the conference, he recalled the eventful day, waking up and learning of the historic Brexit vote, watching the resignation of Prime Minister David Cameron, and then heading in a traditional carriage to present his credentials to Queen Elizabeth. 

“It's definitely an interesting time to be ambassador,” he said, while resisting the efforts of Ravid, Haaretz's diplomatic correspondent, to have him weigh in on the Brexit vote. The Israeli government had made a collective official decision not to take a stand on whether the British government should stay or leave the European Union in the run-up to the referendum, he said. “I see no reason to change that policy now,” Regev added.

Looking back, Regev said he “enjoyed every moment” of his many years at the Prime Minister's Office, first under Ehud Olmert and then Netanyahu. 

Regev told Ravid “I have no doubt Netanyahu believes in two states for two peoples,” adding that he believes that if the prime minister concluded a deal with the Palestinians, “an overwhelming majority of Israelis and the Knesset would support it.”

Asked what Netanyahu wants his legacy to be, he said, "I don’t accept that [Netanyahu is just] motivated by political survival. He sees himself as a steward who safeguards Israel's interests in a very volatile period." The prime minister “has steered the ship in a responsible and measured way” in this effort, Regev said.

The ambassador added that the Palestinians were making a historic mistake and hurting their own people by not taking up Netanyahu on his offers to immediately negotiate toward a two-state solution with Israel. However, Regev added that if for the Palestinians a state is merely “a platform for continuing the conflict by other means, Israel is not interested."