Years of media scrutiny surrounding UK Labour and its leader, Jeremy Corbyn, over accusations of alleged anti-semitism have boiled to a frenzy in recent months.
The left-wing politician and his support for the Palestinian cause has made him the target of the international pro-Israel lobby, who have accused him of participating in and tolerating what has been dubbed the “new anti-Semitism”: criticism of the Israeli state for its human rights abuses and war crimes in the occupied Palestinian territory.
After the Labour party adopted in July a new version of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of anti-Semitism that specifically excludes portions conflating anti-Israel activism with anti-Semitism, criticism of Corbyn is at an all-time high.
Amid all the hysteria, one Israeli lawyer and activist is attempting to shed light on the Israeli government’s role in the smear campaign against Corbyn, and what he criticises as the right-wing Netanyahu administration’s hypocrisy when it comes to fighting anti-Semitism.
On August 19, Israeli Advocate Eitay Mack filed a freedom of information request to the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Strategic Affairs, in order “to verify that these play no part in the de-legitimization waged in recent years on the UK Labour Party and Mr. Corbyn,” as stated in the letter filed by Mack.
In a six-month undercover investigation, Al Jazeera reporters revealed the extent to which Israeli officials — specifically from the Israeli Embassy in the UK — influence British politics, through working with political youth organizations and MPs.
Parts of the investigation exposed a senior officer at the embassy, Shai Masot, expressing his desire to “take down” British politicians who were sympathetic to the Palestinian cause. On several occasions, Masot referenced Jeremy Corbyn as one of the threats to the Israeli political agenda.
In his letter, sent to both ministries, Mack states that “in the past two years, it has been revealed that the two ministries carry out activities against critics of the State of Israel in the UK,” citing specifically Prime Minister Netanyahu’s “public confrontations” with Corbyn.
Mack has requested the release of non-classified information, documents, records and correspondences by the two ministries with NGOs, groups, individuals and journalists in the UK, as they regard the Labour Party and Corbyn.
One of the major highlights of Mack’s request, that he references throughout, is the Israeli government’s success in its relations with “regimes that are responsible for mass murder (e.g., South Sudan and the Philippines), regimes that are infected with anti- Semitism (e.g., Hungary, Poland and Ukraine), regimes that use rape as a weapon of war (e.g., Burma), and corrupt regimes (e.g., Guatemala and Honduras).”
In an interview with Mondoweiss, Mack spoke about his motivations behind filing such a request, the significance of Israel’s possible interference in UK politics, and the Netanyahu government’s failure to challenge real threats of anti-Semitism in Europe and around the world.
What was your motivation for filing this request for information?
Mack: I’ve been working over the past few years fighting the Israeli arms export relationship with regimes that commit crimes against humanity and war crimes. Especially in the last year, the state of Israel has been strengthening its relationship with non-democratic, dictator regimes across the world. A reason for this practice is Israel is using its arms trade to buy votes in international forums against the Palestinian people.
Israel is strengthening its relationship in eastern Europe, with countries like Hungary, Poland, Ukraine, where they have huge problems with anti-Semitism. On the other hand, you see the Israeli government making their political struggle with Jeremy Corbyn a main issue.
What are the implications for such a policy?
Mack: I’m following this pattern and very worried about it. I think it’s really dangerous because when Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban visited Israel, he did a press event with Netanyahu and President Rivlin. One of his comments was that the anti-semitism in Hungary is getting smaller, but we know what’s happening in Hungary with the Orban government and in Ukraine, where Israel supplies arms. There are neo-nazi militias that are part of the government’s regular security forces, and this is very concerning.
Instead of fighting anti-Semitism in eastern Europe or right-wing populist parties throughout Europe that are popular among anti-Semites, neo-nazis, anti-immigration activists, and Islamophobes, Israel is choosing to fight this so-called “new anti-semitism,” which is simply just a criticism against the Israeli government and its policies, it is not anti-Jewish.
I am very worried about it. In Israel, you see daily articles about Jeremy Corbyn and his alleged anti-Semitism or his alleged support for it . This is not only hypocrisy, it is also a very dangerous game the Netanyahu government is playing.
Have you filed such requests to the government in the past? Did anything positive come out of them?
Mack: I filed many freedom of information requests concerning Israel’s relationship with dictatorships in the past, such as the weapons deals with the military juntas of Latin America in the 70s and 80s, in which Israel would exchange support and PR services for the regimes.
So in the past, I have filed information requests to expose this kind of business that Israel has conducted. But in the present, in an ongoing case, this is the first time I’ve done it.
The story of Jeremy Corbyn is very rare, in that the Israeli government is involved in making public statements or being involved in Western European governments.
Why is Israel so invested in the case of Jeremy Corbyn?
Mack: This is the head of a very important political party in a very important country. He is pro-Palestine and pro-human rights, and the Netanyahu government sees Corbyn as a big obstacle in implementing its policy around the world.
In the past few years, Israel has felt very good with the climate of anti-immigration and anti-Islamic sentiments in Western Europe.
The main obstacle at the moment for the Israeli government to continue further with its goal of taking the Palestinian issue off the table, is Jeremy Corbyn. Since Jeremy Corbyn managed to achieve the leadership role of a mainstream party in the UK, this could happen in other places, and Israel is scared of that.
Israel’s delegitimization campaign against Corbyn for his pro-Palestine stance is not subjective to him, correct?
Mack: Yes, what is happening to Corbyn is what we see happening daily to BDS activists around the world. They are being harassed and silenced by the Israeli government and its representatives and supporters, claiming that their activities are anti-Semitic.
One of the results of one of my freedom for information requests that I filed in the last year is that we managed to get admission from the Israeli Ministry of Justice that they had been paying thousands of shekels to international law firms to criminalize BDS activists in Europe.
So now in the case of Jeremy Corbyn, he has a lot of support. But this same tactic of delegitimization by claiming anti-Semitism has happened to activists that are not the head of political parties and that don’t have that economic and political support.
So why is it so important to highlight the case of Jeremy Corbyn?
Mack: This case is a fight for freedom of speech. It is also a fight to keep alive the battle for Palestinian human rights and their struggle for getting independence from the Israeli occupation.
Do you personally believe the Israeli government is actively involved in a targeted campaign against Corbyn?
Mack: I cannot say for sure, we have to wait for the answer we get. But what I can say is that already, the level of involvement of the Israeli government in the UK is very rare. The fact that Netanyahu is denouncing Corbyn in his Twitter account, that the Minister of Strategic Affairs, Gilad Erdan — the one who is responsible for fighting BDS — went to London and did interviews in the Guardian criticising Corbyn, it is very rare.
Usually Israel is careful not to publicly interfere in other countries issues because it doesn’t want other countries to interfere with its issues. I wouldn’t be surprised if we find more evidence for Israeli involvement in the delegitimization campaign against Corbyn.
It is crazy because the Israeli government is not saying one bad word, for example, against the Burmese government — to which it supplies arms — for its crimes against humanity.
But on the other hand, they criticise Corbyn and the Labour party. In the time of Trump it seems not unusual that Netanyahu would criticize Corbyn on his Twitter, but if you look at Israeli policy for the past decades, it’s rare. The only leaders that Israel regularly criticises publicly are Palestinian leaders.
Is there anything that you feel is important to add, that readers should know?
Mack: I think that the Netanyahu government has taken the memory of the Holocaust and the definition of anti-Semitism to a new, dangerous level.
They are not ready to deal with what they call the old anti-Semitism, the people that are neo-Nazis, or their supporters in power. But they are putting all their efforts into fighting any criticism of Israel instead.
Israel is claiming that Corbyn and the Labour party are putting British Jews at risk. But the bottom line is that the Netanyahu government itself is actually enlarging the risk for the Jewish people around the world, because they are not dealing with the real problem, just the artificial problem. They are not concerned with real anti-Semitism, they only want to fulfill their political agenda of taking the issue of the Palestinian people off the world stage.
Read the Freedom of Information Request to the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Strategic Affairs: