Jeremy Corbyn is a man of peace with an unfortunate tendency to find himself in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong wreath – when it comes to anti-Semitism. Just last week it emerged that the Labour leader once claimed that Israel’s Prime Minister and other leading politicians compete to see ‘who can kill the most’ people in Palestine.
Only Corbyn seems to be more relaxed about leaders who talk up killing Israelis and Americans. In the spring of 2004, the Labour leader – then a lowly backbencher – visited Palestine. It was a rather curious time for a visit given that after a series of assassinations of Hamas leaders, the mood was particularly febrile and Western visitors were thin on the ground.
The month before his visit, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the founder of the Islamic fundamentalist group Hamas, was killed by a targeted Israeli air-strike. In response, his successor as Hamas leader – Abdel Aziz al-Rantissi – vowed full-scale revenge encouraging Muslims worldwide to attack all Israelis and Americans that support Israel. But before he could get round to it, he was also killed, by an air-strike in Gaza. A senior Hamas leader was quick to declare: ‘Revenge is coming. This blood will not be wasted. It is our fate in Hamas and it is our fate as Palestinians to die as martyrs.’
Not only was Corbyn in Palestine around this time – he was able to file a report about the virulently anti-Israeli attitudes on display to the Morning Star, natch. He was visiting the region during its state mourning for Hamas leader Rantissi:
On Monday morning, walking along the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem was an eerie experience – only food shops were open, everything else was barred and bolted as disconsolate people walked by. Yet another blow against Palestinian self-esteem. Almost Biblical in its quiet, this was not just another day in Palestine.
Corbyn also offered up his two cents worth on the reaction of Hamas supporters:
‘The assassination of Hamas leader Abdul Aziz Rentissi [sic] had struck a chord with everyone – Hamas supporters and others alike. The Israeli policy of assassinating the leaders of Hamas has not isolated the organisation in any way. Quite the reverse – the illegal act of selective assassination has united the people, as the enormous demonstrations show.
In Ramallah on Monday evening, all the political groupings joined hands to condemn the assassination in a strong show of unity.’
But Corbyn did add a careful rider:
‘The deaths of Israeli citizens at the hands of suicide bombers is as wrong as the assassination policy, yet the spiral of violence has a logic of its own and the West is complicit in all this.’
With only Corbyn’s own account to go on, Mr S can’t help but ask: did Corbyn visit leaders of Hamas or other political groups, in Ramallah or elsewhere, on this trip? Did he experience, as described, ‘all political groups’ joining hands to commemorate Rantissi, leader of an internationally banned terror organisation? Did he choose to visit territories in Palestine, during a period of collective mourning for a terrorist leader, despite the murderous declarations – and displays – of Hamas in the days before? Where is Corbyn’s trip in the Parliamentary Register of Members’ Financial Interests?
Perhaps there are simple answers to these simple questions. Or perhaps this just harks back to a time when Corbyn was happy to openly describe members of Hamas and Hezbollah as ‘friends’. The funny thing is for all his talk of speaking to people he disagrees with in the quest for peace, it always seems to be the same side.