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  • Sana Uqba

Anti-Semitism in British politics: What's the beef?

A former London mayor who was criticised for linking Hitler to Zionism has responded to the anti-Semitism row that has sent shockwaves across Britain's opposition Labour party.

Ken Livingstone said he regrets the comments made during a fiery anti-Semitism debate earlier this week that saw him ejected from the Labour party, but refused to withdraw them, insisting they were based on "historical facts".

"I really regret saying it because it has caused all this eruption," the veteran politician told local radio station, LBC as tension continued to rise among British politicians.

"I never regret saying something that is true," he added.

The dispute blew up on Wednesday when Livingstone appeared on aBBC interview to defend Bradford West MP Naz Shah who was suspended from the party for posting an alleged anti-Semitic image on Facebook suggesting Israel should be moved to the United States.

"When Hitler won his election in 1932, his policy then was that Jews should be moved to Israel. He was supporting Zionism before he went mad and ended up killing six million Jews," Livingstone said.

"I have been in the Labour Party for 40 years and I have never heard anyone say anything anti-Semitic.

The backlash The comments were not met lightly, especially with Labour MP John Mann who hurled a verbal tirade against his colleague, accusing him of being a "Nazi apologist" in the presence of several media reporters.

Jeremy Corbyn, who made international headlines when he unexpectedly achieved a landslide victory in last year's Labour leadership election, swiftly responded to the comments by suspending Livingstone.

"There is no place for anti-Semitism or any form of racism in the Labour Party, or anywhere in society," Labour party leader, Jeremy Corbyn said.

"We will make sure that our party is a welcoming home to members of all minority communities."

Several politicians weighed in on the debate that has rocked British politics in the lead up to the regional elections next week.

Among the critics was Israeli Labour Party leader, Isaac Herzog, who extended an invitation to Jeremy Corbyn to visit Israel's national Holocaust museum while describing the comments as "particularly horrific and unthinkable for a British politician and the 21st century." But Livingstone backed the leader and accused "embittered" Labour MPs opposing the long-time socialist and staunch critic of Israel, Corbyn, of attempting to undermine his authority.

"The real appalling thing here is dishonest MPs who know that what I have said is true and stood up all this nonsense because they want to damage our chances at the local election, so they have a chance of undermining Jeremy," Livingstone maintained.

Anti-Semitisim vs Anti-Zionism The row has opened up a significant debate among the British public and media who have began questioning the differences between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism.

Thousands of social media users defended the right to criticise Israel without being labelled an anti-Semite.

One Twitter user said "Critiquing Saudi Arabia isn't Islamophobic. Critiquing America isn't anti-Christian. So why is critiquing Israel anti-Semitic? #freepalestine"

More than 80 Jewish members or supporters of the British Labour wrote a letter to the Guardian newspaper on Saturday, denying accusations that anti-Semitism was prevalent in the party.

"The tiny number of cases of real anti-Semitism need to be dealt with, but we are proud that the Labour party historically has been in the forefront of the fight against all forms of racism," they wrote.

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