Majority in British Poll Say Hating Israel or Denying Its Right to Exist Is anti-Semitism

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Former London Mayor Ken Livingstone leaves his home in London, Britain April 29, 2016.
Former London Mayor Ken Livingstone leaves his home in London, Britain April 29, 2016. Credit: Peter Nichols / Reuters

Controversial comments about Zionism by a former London mayor prompted the British-based polling firm YouGov to examine the views of the British public when it comes to Israel and anti-Semitism.

Some 60 percent of those surveyed last Friday said criticism of Israel alone does not amount to anti-Semitism, but 53 percent said hating Israel and questioning its right to exist does.

The poll, which YouGov said surveyed a representative sample of over 4,400 U.K. respondents, was carried out after former London Mayor Ken Livingstone was suspended for saying that Hitler was a supporter of Zionism. The former mayor made his remarks, which have been widely challenged as inaccurate, in defense of another Labour Party parliamentarian, Naz Shah, after she was suspended for anti-Israel comments.

Reacting to Livingstone's remarks, Jonathan Arkush, the president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, told BBC radio: "What Ken Livingstone deliberately did was to draw an equation between Nazism and Zionism. He therefore crossed a line into what certainly most people would regard as distinctly anti-Semitic."

In addition to the 53 percent of those who told YouGov pollsters that hating Israel and questioning its right to exist is anti-Semitic, 21 percent said it was not and 26 percent said they did not know. The British public made a major distinction, however, between that level of animosity for Israel and statements simply critical of the Israeli government. Only 9 percent said such criticism constituted anti-Semitism, 60 percent said it did not and 31 percent said they did not know.

On Saturday, Livingstone said he was sorry for causing a disruption or any offense with his claim that Adolf Hitler supported Zionism early in his political career — but not sorry for saying so, even citing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's infamous Mufti comments.

"How can I have hurt and offended the Jewish community when the prime minister of Israel said exactly the same thing?" Livingstone said, adding that he had only made a "statement of fact" concerning Hitler that had been seized on by his political enemies, so called "embittered old Blairites," to stir up trouble.

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