Tony Blair has told an Israeli audience that some of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s comments cannot be construed as anything other than “antisemitic”.
The former British prime minister was speaking at Bar-Ilan University’s Board of Trustees Gala this week and was asked about Brexit, Theresa May, Labour, Zionism, and how the technological revolution “is going to change everyone’s lives”.
The event was sponsored by British philanthropists David and Judy Dangoor who support scholarships for students at Bar-Ilan, and fund the Sir Naim Dangoor Programme for Universal Monotheism, to “take a universal message far beyond the borders of Israel about the ultimate unity of mankind”.
Blair, who has now been to Israel almost 200 times, was praised as an advocate of science and scientific responsibility, and told the audience that he no longer recognised the Labour Party under Corbyn’s leadership.
“To be frank this antisemitism row is a shameful thing. If you’d told me in 1997 or at any point in the next ten years that the Party had a problem with antisemitism I would not have credited or believed it, and yet it is here today.”
He added that antisemitism would “imperil the Labour Party – and it should, if it’s not rooted out and defeated,” to applause from the audience.
Asked if he agreed with Luciana Berger’s claim that Labour was now “institutionally antisemitic,” Blair said: “I see why she says it… We’re being investigated by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, which is one of the bodies I established. I never dreamed that it would be investigating Labour – and on this issue.”
“Some of the remarks are not explicable in any other way, I’m afraid, and that is very sad. Does he think he is? No, he doesn’t think he is at all. The question is what we do about it.”
He added: “Antisemitism always ends up in the same place, but it doesn’t always begin in the same way, and the antisemitism that is coming into west politics is coming in through a door that is on the left and not just on the right.
“There are links between elements of Islamism and the left, which seems contradictory from a progressive point of view. There is criticism of Israel that is so lop-died and disproportionate that the only sensible conclusion is that it derives from antisemitism.
We need to deal with a lot of the misperceptions. There’s an urgent need to explain to a new generation of younger people ‘what is Zionism, what’s its derivation, what does it mean. For many younger people they’ve no idea what it means but for them it’s becoming a word you use to criticise, not something you accept and support.”