Labour deputy leader Tom Watson has led a delegation of the party’s MPs to visit Israel’s Yad Vashem memorial to the victims of the Holocaust after Jeremy Corbyn turned down an invitation to go himself.
Mr Corbyn was originally invited by the leader of the Israeli Labour Party Isaac Herzog in the wake of the row which erupted earlier this year over anti-Semitic comments by former London mayor Ken Livingstone.
However a spokesman for the Labour leader said he had been unable to commit to the visit due to “diary issues” but had said Mr Watson would go instead. Iain McNicol, the party’s general secretary, is also due to visit in the new year.
“They are not planning any trips outside Europe at the moment,” the spokesman said. “He could not commit to go at that time. He fully intends to go to Israel again at some point in the future.”
The spokesman added that Mr Corbyn would be meeting Mr Herzog when he visits London later this month.
Mr Corbyn faced intense criticism over his failure to tackle anti-Semitic abuse within the party after Mr Livingstone – a long time ally of the Labour leader sparked outrage with his claim that Hitler supported Zionism in the 1930s “before going mad and murdering six million Jews”.
A report into anti-Semitism in the party by the former director of the civil liberties organisation, Liberty, Shami Chakrabarti, was denounced “whitewash” by Jewish groups, and there was further controversy when she was made a life peer by Mr Corbyn.
Mr Watson paid his respects at Yad Vashem alongside fellow Labour MPs Dame Rosie Winterton, Michael Dugher, Ruth Smeeth and Gloria De Piero.
Mr Watson was quoted as saying: “I wanted to come back to Israel and the Palestinian Territories and to pay respects on behalf of the UK Labour Party at Yad Vashem.
“We remembered those who died in the Holocaust and renewed our determination to fight racism and anti-Semitism – whatever form it takes and wherever it exists.
“We travelled to East Jerusalem to meet inspiring young entrepreneurs from both the Israeli and Palestinian communities studying together.
“I am also looking forward to meeting Isaac Herzog and other members of our sister party to build on our friendships and our determination to work for peace in the Middle East.”