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Jeremy Corbyn and Khaled Mashaal

The labour leadership candidate who referred to Hamas and Hezbollah as “friends” was boosted yesterday by a poll that put him on course to win the four-way contest.

A YouGov poll for The Times newspaper had Jeremy Corbyn on 43 percent among party supporters, compared to 26 percent for nearest rival Andy Burnham. The survey, which sent shockwaves through the political establishment, ranked Yvette Cooper on 20 percent and Liz Kendall on 11 percent.

The Islington North MP also led on second preferences. Corbyn has previously said he used the word “friends” as a “collective term” during a meeting in Parliament several years ago, and he believed Hamas should be engaged in talks even though he disagreed with their actions.

He did little to allay concerns on Monday when, during a Jewish community hustings at JW3, he sought to explain his welcome to Hezbollah at that gathering. “I’m an inclusive person. Everybody’s a friend. You are all friends here,” he said.

And speaking of meeting Hamas, he added: “Does it mean I agree with the social attitudes of and social policies of those organisations? Absolutely not. I’ve made that clear to them as well. Does it mean you’ve got to have talks with everybody in order to bring about some long-term settlement? Yes. There are also people in Israel whose approaches are very unreasonable.”

While saying that there was sometimes cause to negotiate with people Continued from page 1 with whom you disagree, Cooper said: “We can’t describe people as friends who support terrorist activities.”

Despite his audience, Corbyn did not hold back from criticising Israel, speaking of how Gaza had been placed “under siege” and of “serious issues concerning the bombardment of Gaza”.

He asked: “Is it right that we should be supplying arms in that situation, is it right that we should be importing goods made in illegal settlements across the West Bank? Wouldn’t a stronger message be to those Israelis who want to live in peace with the Palestinians – and there are very many people in Israel that do, we recognise that – that the process of some economic measures might be helpful?”

Pressed for clarification, he added: “I’m not in favour of preventing academic arrangements, but I am in favour of economic [restrictions], particularly relating to arms and particularly relating to the importation of settlement produce, which would be illegal anyway”.

Asked if he was against imports of produce from “Israel proper”, Corbyn responded: “That’s ok… but there is an issue of re-labelling and I want to see much tougher sanctions. We have got to get real about the issue of Israel and the settlements.”

His comments were at odds with all three of his rivals. Cooper told the forum – initiated by Labour Friends of Israel and the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) – that boycotts were “counter-productive”.

Burnham – who said his first visit as leader would be to Israel – professed himself perplexed that “unjustified spitefulness” was being applied against a country that stood up for gay rights, trade union rights and civil liberties.

Meanwhile Kendall vowed to “fight BDS with every fibre of my being”. Corbyn ducked a question from the Community Security Trust’s Mark Gardner, who asked what steps he would take to dissociate the Stop the War Coalition, which he chairs, from continuing to support the annual al-Quds Day rally, which Gardner described as “a festival of hate”.

The MP responded: “It is certainly not designed as a festival of hate.” He also denounced anti-Semitism and racism, recalling that his late mother had taken part in anti-fascist demonstrations in Cable Street in the 1930s. Burnham, Cooper and Kendall made impassioned pleas that Labour should work to rebuild its historic links with the Jewish community, and regretted the situation in which, as Kendall put it, “we have lost your trust.”

All acknowledged mistakes made by the Labour Party last summer in not addressing quickly enough rising anti-Semitism, and each of the three pledged to improve relations with the community if they were elected leader.

Burnham asked: “How did it get to this with the Jewish community? This can’t carry on. The party has lost the art of communication, and the art of listening.” JLM supporters nominated Cooper as their preferred candidate to be party’s leader. The event was partnered by JW3 and the Jewish Chronicle.