By Justin Cohen in Manchester for the annual Conservative party conference.
The Conservative Party’s deputy chairman has launched a blistering attack on Jeremy Corbyn, accusing him of being “soft on terrorism and soft on the causes of terrorism”.
The claim from Robert Halfon, the most senior Jewish politician in Britain, came amid ongoing concern over the Labour leader’s description of Hamas and Hezbollah as “friends” and his links to extremists. Hamas this week rejoiced at the killing of four Israeli civilians in two terror attacks in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
During an exclusive interview with Jewish News at the Conservative’s annual conference in Manchester, Halfon said: “We know that Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party are soft on terrorism and soft on the causes of terrorism. We know this to be true because he’s held meetings with Hezbollah and he’s held meetings with Hamas. He’s stood on the same platform as alleged anti-Semites. It’s frightening.
“I’ve always had huge admiration for the Labour Party over many years as, although I disagreed with them, they were Her Majesty’s loyal opposition. You would think that, when it comes to the crunch, they could be trusted with our security. Now we know the modern Labour Party is soft on terrorism and soft on the causes of terrorism.
“They’ve elected a leader who has associations with these type of people, who doesn’t believe in Trident, who questions Britain’s role in NATO.”
Corbyn has previously said he described the terror groups as “friends” in a “collective way” at a meeting in Parliament.
He told Channel 4 News: “I’m saying that people I talk to, I use it in a collective way, saying our friends are prepared to talk. Does it mean I agree with Hamas and what it does? No. Does it mean I agree with Hezbollah and what they do? No. What it means is that to bring about a peace process, you have to talk to people with whom you may profoundly disagree.”
A spokesperson for the Labour leader told Jewish News he would not respond directly to “unnecessary and unfounded criticism – but as previously stated, Jeremy is completely opposed to terrorism”.
Also at this week’s conference, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond mocked Corbyn’s failure to mention Israel by name in a speech to Labour Friends of Israel last week.
Corbyn was heckled by a major Labour donor for the omission at the end of a speech in which he spoke of wanting to bring about “long-term dialogue” but did not explicitly refer to a two-state solution. His shadow foreign secretary did do so in his address to the event.
Hammond told a packed Conservative Friends of Israel reception this week: “I’ve read the reports of Mr Corbyn’s attendance at the LFI meeting last week and I just want to say one word – Israel. There you go, I said it and it didn’t hurt. I’ll say it again – Israel.”
In a further jibe at Corbyn’s record, he added: “I can make you a couple of promises – Mr Corbyn can’t. I can promise you I will never share a platform with Hezbollah. I can promise you I will never describe anyone that launches indiscriminate rocket attacks against civilian areas as my friends.”
Moving to stress the clear blue water between his party and the new Labour leader on Israel, Lord Feldman told the packed fringe event in Manchester: “It is fabulous to see the depth and strength of the Conservative Party’s support for Israel.
“It’s even more important given the consensus across the main parties, which has existed for as long as I can remember, seems to be breaking down. We can no longer take it for granted that all the major political parties will be supporters of Israel. So the Conservative Party has to be more ardent and stronger in its support than ever.”