Today in Prime Minister’s Questions, David Cameron told the Opposition Leader, Jeremy Corbyn, to withdraw comments he had made previously referring to Hamas and Hezbollah as his friends. Mr Corbyn refused to withdraw his comments, leading to a heated exchange between the two politicians.
Conservative MP Karl McCartney initiated the subject, asking the Prime Minister: “Will my right hon. Friend join me, and all our Conservative colleagues, in condemning the actions and propaganda of Hezbollah and Hamas?”
The Prime Minister replied: “My hon. Friend’s point about Hamas is important. We should be clear about who they are. They are a terrorist group who believe in killing Jews, and that is why whatever the Leader of the Opposition says about combating anti-Semitism in the Labour party will mean nothing until he withdraws the remark that they were his friends”.
Mr Cameron challenged the Labour leader: “He needs to do that, and he should do it today”.
Mr Corbyn avoided the question, stating: “Later today, commemorations begin for Holocaust Memorial Day in Israel. I hope that it is agreed in all parts of the House that we should send our best wishes to those who are commemorating the occasion, and also send a very clear statement that anti-Semitism has no place in our society whatsoever and we all have a duty to oppose it”.
The Prime Minister pressed Mr Corbyn, recounting the Labour leader’s troubling remarks: “First, I join the right hon. Gentleman in saying that we should always support Holocaust Memorial Day, whether here in the UK, where we have a number of commemorations, or in Israel. But I am going to press him on this point, because he said ‘it will be my pleasure and my honour to host an event in parliament where our friends from Hezbollah will be speaking… I’ve also invited friends from Hamas to come and speak as well’”.
He underlined: “Hamas and Hezbollah believe in killing Jews, not just in Israel but around the world. Will he take this opportunity? If he wants to clear up the problem of anti-Semitism in the Labour party, now is a good time to start. Withdraw the remark that they are your friends!”
Mr Corbyn replied: “I have made it very clear that Labour is an anti-racist party and that there is no place for anti-Semitism within it. We have suspended any members who have undertaken any anti-Semitic activities or work or made such statements, and have established an inquiry led by Shami Chakrabarti. The point the Prime Minister makes relates to a discussion I was hosting to try to promote a peace process. It was not an approval of those organisations. I absolutely do not approve of those organisations”.
The Prime Minister, unsatisfied with this response, again pressed the Labour leader: “I am afraid the right hon. Gentleman will have to do this one more time. He referred to Hamas and Hezbollah as his friends. He needs to withdraw that remark. Let me give him another chance: are they your friends or are they not? Those organisations, in their constitutions, believe in persecuting and killing Jews. They are anti-Semitic and racist organisations, and he must stand up and say they are not his friends”.
Mr Corbyn replied: “Obviously, anyone who commits racist attacks or who is anti-Semitic is not a friend of mine. I am very clear about that”. He went on to accuse the Conservative Party of running a smear campaign against the Labour candidate for London mayor, Sadiq Khan.
The Prime Minister rejected this claim, stating that “we are not responsible for everything someone says when they share a platform with us, and we cannot control everyone who appears in a picture, but there is a pattern of behaviour with the right hon. Member for Tooting (Sadiq Khan)”.
He accused the Labour London mayoral candidate of sharing a platform with extremists: “He shared a platform with Sajil Shahid, the man who trained the ringleader of the 7/7 attacks and accused the United States of bringing 9/11 on itself. He shared a platform with an extremist who called for Jews to be drowned in the ocean. When this was put to the right hon. Member for Tooting, he described it as mere “flowery” language. If he wants to know why he has a problem with anti-Semitism, let me tell him: it is because his candidates share platform after platform with extremists and anti-Semites and then excuse their words”.
Mr Cameron challenged Mr Corbyn a fourth time: “One more time: say you withdraw the remark about Hamas and Hezbollah being your friends!”
The Prime Minister stated that these incidents demonstrate “why the Leader of the Opposition’s attempts to deal with anti-Semitism are utterly condemned to failure. He will not even condemn people who sit on platforms with people like that”.
The exchange follows weeks of shocking revelations in the Labour Party, with up to 50 Party members suspended for making anti-Semitic remarks.