Reports: Pro-Palestinian Group Accused of anti-Semitism Funded Corbyn Trip to Meet Assad

Visit in 2009 to Syria was payed for by Palestinian Return Centre (PRC) to mark 'infamous' Balfour Declaration, for which they think U.K. should apologize.

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LAbour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn joins a protest by campaigners calling for an inquiry into a confrontation between police and miners in 1984, London, September 13, 2016.
Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn at a protest outside the Houses of Parliament, September 13, 2016.Credit: Stefan Wermuth/Reuters

A pro-Palestinian group funded a 2009 visit by Jeremy Corbyn, the current leader of the U.K. Labour Party, to Syria, where he met with President Bashar Assad, English-language reports said this week.

The trip, organized and funded by the Palestinian Return Centre (PRC), was held as a part of what reports called a "stunt" to mark the 1917 Balfour Declaration, in which the British announced support for the establishment of a Jewish state in Israel, then under British control.

According to The Australian and Daily Mail, the PRC still contends the U.K. should apologize for the historic pledge.

A copy of the original Balfour Declaration at the Israel Museum.Credit: Uriel Cohen

The group found itself at the center of a storm this week after an audience member said at an event it had organized in the House of Lords that the Jewish people were responsible for the Holocaust and that Israel was comparable to the Islamic State group.

The event was chaired by Jenny Tonge, a former Liberal Democrats peer, who was suspended from the party in the past for anti-Semitic comments. She was once again suspended this week in wake of the event, and resigned shortly after.

Corbyn, then a lowly lawmaker for the Labour Party, joined a number of lawmakers from all three of the U.K.'s major parties for the visit. According to the Daily Mail, the delegation thanked Assad for giving home to roughly half a million Palestinian refugees who fled or where expelled from Israel on the eve of its establishment in 1948.

Syrian President Bashar Assad speaks during an interview with Australia's SBS news channel, Damascus, Syria, July 1, 2016. Credit: SANA via AP

Teferring to the trip, Corbyn told the British parliament in 2009 that "I pay tribute to the fact that Syria has accommodated a very large number of refugees and ensured that they are able to live in that country in safety."

The Daily Mail found that Corbyn reported the visit to Parliament as taking place between October 31 and November 2, 2009, valuing it at UKP 1,300 and describing it as a "visit [to] Iraqi and Palestinian refugee camps in Syria."

In an article about the 2009 trip, Corbyn said he held meeting with a group of Palestinians on the anniversary of the "infamous" declaration, blasting the U.S. over their inaction on Israeli settlements.

"Once again the Israeli tail wags the U.S. dog," he reportedly wrote in the Morning Star, "as [then-Secretary of State] Hillary Clinton drops demands to even halt new settlements as the Netanyahu government pushes to continue its dismemberment of the West Bank."

In January of 2010, the Daily Mail reports, Corbyn visited Gaza in a trip funded by a group called the European Campaign to End the Siege on Gaza.

Responding to the reports, Corbyn's office said that "Jeremy [Corbyn] has consistently spoken out against all forms of Anti-Semitism. In his speech to Labour Party conference this year, he said: ‘Let me be absolutely clear: antisemitism is an evil.'"