The leader of Britain’s opposition Labour Party has turned down an invitation from Prime Minister Theresa May to attend a dinner this week marking the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration. The Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be at the event, along with senior UK government representatives and members of various UK Jewish organizations.

Without giving a reason, Mr Corbyn declined the invitation and instead is sending his shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry.

As he has not given a reason for failing to engage, not only with an important event in history, but also with the leader of another country, it is left open to speculation as to his rationale.

There is not enough space here to document his five decades of opposition to Israel and support for those who oppose the country, including those who use terrorism, but any idea that the would-be Prime Minister of the UK is even-handed on the Israel/Palestine question is risible.

He has only ever been comfortable hosting groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah. Both organizations are regarded by numerous countries as terrorists, both have been called ‘friends’ by Mr Corbyn. He justified this term by saying it is important to engage with the different parties to the dispute. However, he does not extend this argument to the Prime Minister of Israel. In the event of the Palestinian President  Mahmoud Abbas coming to London it will be interesting to see if Mr Corbyn meets him.

In 2014 Mr Corbyn attended a wreath laying ceremony in Tunisia held to honour a Palestinian terrorist who helped organize the 1972 Munich massacre of Israeli athletes. He has shared platforms with rabid Islamist anti-Semites of the type who also call for homosexuals to be killed.

He has stood idly by whilst Jewish Labour Party members have been insulted, and anti-Semitism allowed to seep to the surface often disguised as ‘anti-Zionism’.  He responded to widespread allegations of anti-Semitism in the party by publishing the findings of an investigation described by most of Britain’s Jewish organizations as a ‘whitewash’. He then, in the words of the distinguished author Howard Jacobson, stuck his middle finger up to British Jewry by elevating the report’s author Shami Chakrabarti to the House of Lords as Baroness Chakrabarti. He then made her his shadow attorney general.

It is difficult not to draw the conclusion that the rationale to boycott the Balfour Dinner is because Mr Corbyn detests Israel. During his decades as a career politician he always has done, and always will.

Mrs Thornberry, who hopes to be Britain’s foreign secretary, could have used her late invitation to engage with the Israeli government and build a relationship for the future.  Instead she has made a statement suggesting she regrets that the State of Israel even exists saying “I don’t think we should celebrate the Balfour declaration but I think we have to mark it because it was a turning point in the history of that area and I think probably the most important way of marking it is to recognise Palestine.”

Her tone contrasts with that of the British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson who, in celebrating the Balfour declaration, wrote  – “I see no contradiction in being a friend of Israel and a believer in that country’s destiny, while also being deeply moved by the suffering of those effectively dislodged by its birth. The vital caveat of the Balfour Declaration intended to safeguard other communities has not been fully realised.”

This was a grown up, even-handed position, recognising both sides’ point of view. The caveat referred to Lord Balfour’s words  –“ it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine…”

A case can be made that the only parts of the subsequently divided land where non-Jewish communities have equal rights in law (if not always in practice) is the part now renamed Israel. In Palestine, the embattled Christian Arab minority is shrinking, especially in Gaza. The Palestinian view is that no Jews whatsoever should be allowed to live in Palestinian territory.

That is germane to the debate overall, but not to the point made here which is that the British government is using this week’s dinner to work with the Israeli side of this divide whilst simultaneously reminding them of the need for a two-state solution and the suffering of ordinary Palestinians. The senior figures in the opposition indulged themselves with pointless gesture politics ensuring that if they come to power at least one side in the Palestine/Israel divide will have little reason to see them as an honest broker.

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5 Comments on "Guess Who’s Not Coming To Dinner?"

  1. I’m sure you are right about Jeremy Corbyn’s view of Israel, your also right that it’s gesture politics but I’m not sure it’s pointless from Corbyn’s point of view. There are 3 million Muslims in the UK and rising rapidly while there are less than 300,000 Jews in the UK, holding steady/falling. Only 13% of British Jews say they are prepared to vote Labour and that is unlikely to change much, whatever Corbyn does. His core support within the party membership is notably pro Palestinian/anti Israel. It’s not very statesmanlike, but I’m not sure that is to the forefront of the thinking here. Even if Corbyn turned up to the dinner, he is never going to be trusted by the Israeli leadership given his past, so why annoy your supporters for no immediate gain will be the thinking here. For example, had he attended the dinner, would it persuade you to vote for him Tim?

  2. The dinner marked a hundred years of meddling in the Middle East by the Western nations. I see nothing to celebrate here.

  3. Britain first occupied Aden in 1839 and Egypt in 1882, way before the Balfour declaration.

  4. I think your comment Tim “There is not enough space here to document his five decades of opposition to Israel and support for those who oppose the country” sums up his attitude to the one Liberal Democracy in the Middle East. Corbyn and MacDonnell hold Marxist views that see Israel as a colonial power who are part of the Western alliance. These people see the world in black and white and view the west as culpable for all the World’s problems. Of course, the West is by no means squeaky clean but their hatred of the West sees them call for justice for the Palestinians whilst denying the right of the Jews who have lived in the area for 3000 years to have a homeland.

    They see the History of Israel from 1948 but ignore how it was called Judea before the Romans conquered the land and renamed it Palaestina in an attempt to minimize Jewish identification with the land of Israel. It was then ruled by the Turks until the end of World war 1 when they were defeated by the British and the whole are including what is now known as Jordan became part of the British Mandate.

    Under the Ottoman Empire (1517-1917), the term Palestine was used as a general term to describe the land south of Syria; it was not an official designation. In fact, many Ottomans and Arabs who lived in Palestine during this time period referred to the area as Southern Syria and not as Palestine.

    After World War I, the name Palestine was applied to the territory that was placed under British Mandate; this area included not only present-day Israel but also present-day Jordan.
    Leading up to Israel’s independence in 1948, it was common for the international press to label Jews, not Arabs, living in the mandate as Palestinians. It was not until years after Israeli independence that the Arabs living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip were called Palestinians.

    It was not until 1964 that the word Palestinian was used. It is a very complex issue with claims and counter claims. The far left have a very simplistic view that does not help either side. What they fail to say is that any Palestinian State would seek to have no Jews living there at all. The Arab population of Israel is around 1.7 million around 21% of the Population and some serve in the judiciary, the army, the Knesset and the Police. Corbyn should ask himself how many Jews could live and work in a Palestinian state run by Hamas.

    Surely any justice for the Palestinians should not mean the destruction of Israel which would be the greatest injustice of all.

  5. You can witness Tim’s description of Howard Jacobson’s comment about Jeremy Corbyn at the post launch discussion of the film and book Whitewashed – antisemitism in Labour.
    https://youtu.be/1Vpy5RjTZP
    More about Judith Ornstein’s project, including link to explosive documentary and book are on http://www.whitewashed.co.uk

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