Britain’s leftist opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn has compared Israeli policies with Nazism and expressed support for Islamist radicals seeking Israel’s destruction.
Corbyn is not breaking any new ground with his radical opinions of Israel. Anti-Semitism expressed through anti-Zionism has thrived for decades at the fringes of the political left. However, under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, deep hostility towards the Jewish state has increasingly spread from the fringes to the mainstream left in Britain and in other Western democracies.
Corbyn, who until recently was frequently ridiculed by his political opponents, could potentially become Britain’s next prime minister. What does the rise of Corbyn mean for future British-Israeli relations and the Jewish people?
The popularity of Corbyn is linked to widespread opposition towards his predecessors. The former Labor Prime Ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown had friendly relations with Israel and the United States. However, they ignored the widespread anti-American and anti-Israel attitudes among the grassroots of the Labor party.
Exploiting resentment, embracing hatred:
Corbyn has skillfully exploited this resentment by presenting himself as the voice of the socio-economically weak and underprivileged in Britain and abroad. This outlook automatically embraces hatred of Israel and America alongside support for third world terrorist regimes.
Corbyn was widely criticized for referring to the anti-Semitic terrorist organizations Hamas and Hezbollah as “friends.” While officially distancing himself from anti-Semitism, Corbyn has benefited politically from his hostility towards the Jewish state.
Instead of uprooting Jew-hatred within his party, Corbyn has in practice legitimized it through the demonization of Israel and embrace of radical Islamists.
Many leftist radicals who hate Israel have for years insisted that they have nothing against Jews. Under the leadership of Corbyn, the artificial leftist distinction between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism has collapsed. There is little incentive for Corbyn to distance himself from an anti-Jewish and anti-Israel ideology that he personally embraces and from which he benefits politically.
Britain and Israel – it’s complicated:
Relations between Britain and Israel were always complex. Britain produced both the Zionist Balfour declaration and the anti-Jewish White Paper that prevented many Jews from escaping Nazi-occupied Europe to the Land of Israel.
Over time, relatively close relations were developed between London and Jerusalem. Bilateral trade, high-tech cooperation and intelligence-sharing have increased dramatically during the last few years.
However, the situation could change dramatically if Jeremy Corbyn becomes Britain’s next Prime Minister. A Britain led by Corbyn would likely transform from a critical ally to a vocal opponent of the Jewish state. Corbyn’s close ties with Islamist radicals would greatly undermine intelligence sharing and trade between Israel and Britain.
A Corbyn-led Britain would also energize anti-Israel and anti-Jewish leftist forces in Continental Europe as well as in the United States. Radicals within the American Democratic Party are increasingly finding inspiration from the British and European Left.
If Corbyn succeeds in becoming Britain’s next Prime Minister, he could potentially undermine US-Israeli relations as well. Israel and its supporters therefore need to prepare strategies for a future in which Britain is potentially no longer an ally of the Jewish state.