EDINBURGH (Reuters) - Prime Minister Theresa May pledged on Monday to protect British Jewish identity and Israel’s right to defend itself, in an attack on opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn in the run-up to his Labour Party conference next weekend.
May told a United Jewish Israel Appeal dinner she was “sickened” by the idea that some Jews questioned whether Britain was a safe place to raise their children.
Labour has been angrily divided this year over pockets of anti-Semitism which Corbyn himself has acknowledged. Critics suggest he should step down for failing to tackle the issue.
A poll in Britain’s Jewish Chronicle earlier this month said that 40 percent of Jews would consider emigrating if Corbyn won power in a national election.
In August Britain’s former chief rabbi Jonathan Sacks called Corbyn an anti-Semite and said comments about Zionists made by him in 2013, before he was Labour’s leader, were the most offensive by a senior UK politician in half a century.
Corbyn said five years ago that British Zionists “don’t understand English irony” despite “having lived in this country for a very long time”.
“If we are to stand up for the values that we share - then one of the things we need to do is give young Jewish people the confidence to be proud of their identity – as British, Jewish and Zionist too,” May said.
“There is no contradiction between these identities - and we must never let anyone try to suggest that there should be.”
Corbyn, a veteran campaigner for Palestinian rights who has moved Labour to the left, has pledged to eradicate anti-Semitism. This month Labour adopted an internationally accepted definition of anti-Semitism in hopes of ending the row.
Last month, Corbyn said in his 2013 comments he had been describing some pro-Israel activists as Zionists, an explanation which failed to calm the furor.
May said in her speech on Monday “nothing excuses anti-Semitism – not comedy, not satire, not even irony”.
May said she was committed to strong economic ties between Britain and Israel.
“You can also count on my commitment to Israel’s security, she said. “I am clear that we will always support Israel’s right to defend itself.”
Current opinion polls show Labour roughly level with May’s Conservatives.
Reporting by Elisabeth O'Leary; editing by Andrew Roche