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Explainer: Why has Jeremy Corbyn attracted controversy for attending a wreath-laying ceremony?

The Labour leader has been accused of antisemitism after images emerged of him attending the ceremony in 2014.

British Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn
British Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn
Image: Matt Dunham/AP

JEREMY CORBYN HAS once again been accused of antisemitism after pictures emerged of the British Labour leader attending a wreath-laying ceremony in Tunisia in 2014.

The party has been dogged by allegations of anti-Jewish sentiment since Corbyn - a longtime critic of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians – became leader in 2015.

Despite acknowledging the problem and vowing to “root out” antisemitic elements within Labour earlier this month, Corbyn remains embattled after images emerged of him attending the ceremony.

But why has this led to further charges of antisemitism? Here’s what you need to know about the latest controversy to beset the Labour leader.

How did the controversy arise?

Over the weekend, the Daily Mail published an image of Corbyn holding a wreath in a Tunisian cemetery in which the graves of some deceased Palestinian leaders are located.

The picture was taken during a service to remember victims of a 1985 Israeli airstrike in Tunis, as well as four leading figures from the Palestinian Liberation Organisation.

The four are believed to have connections with Black September, the group that killed 11 Israeli athletes and a police officer at the 1972 Olympics in Munich.

At the time, Corbyn had been attending a conference called the ‘International Conference on Monitoring the Palestinian Political and Legal Situation in the Light of Israeli Aggression’.

Why is this significant?

The image of Corbyn at the ceremony has two implications.

Firstly, his attendance at an event to honour deceased Palestinian leaders – particularly those with possible links to the political killing of Israeli athletes – is more evidence of his anti-Israeli position.

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Some contend that criticism of the existence of Israel, which defines itself as a Jewish state, is equivalent to the demonisation of Jews.

It’s argued that this enables the acceptance of antisemitic beliefs and, more extremely, attacks on Jews and Jewish symbols.

Consequently, the image could also undermine Corbyn’s credibility when he claims to be taking measures to stamp out antisemitism within Labour.

In the eyes of his critics, can someone who held a wreath to honour deceased Palestinian leaders really be trusted to tackle the problem of antisemitism?

What has Corbyn said?

The Labour leader admitted yesterday that the wreath was laid for “some of those who were killed in Paris in 1992”.

This is understood to be a reference to the assassination of the Palestine Liberation Organisation’s intelligence chief Atef Bseiso, one of those accused of involvement in the Munich Olympics massacre.

However, Corbyn said that while he was present at the wreath-laying, he wasn’t “actually involved in it”.

He also said that he was at the cemetery because he wanted to see a fitting memorial to “everyone who has died in every terrorist incident everywhere”.

What do his critics say?

The most prominent criticism of Corbyn has come from Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who tweeted after the Labour leader responded to the Daily Mail image.

He somewhat misguidedly accused Corbyn of laying the wreath on the graves of those responsible for the Munich massacre, but also hit out at his historic comparison of Israel to the Nazis.

Netanyau tweet Source: Twitter/@netanyahu

Corbyn has also come in for criticism from within his own party, with MP Luciana Berger calling for him to apologise, saying that his presence at the ceremony implied his involvement in it.

What happens next?

The Labour leader has come out fighting, hitting back at Netanyahu to say his policies discriminated against Israel’s Palestinian minority.

And in a second tweet, he said Israel deserved condemnation for the killing of over Palestinian protesters, including dozens of children, by Israeli forces this year.

Despite apologising earlier this month for comparing Israel to the Nazis, it seems unlikely that Corbyn will engage in a similar climbdown this time around.

Given the number of occasions Corbyn and the Labour Party have been accused of antisemitism previously, this will only give his critics more ammunition.

It’s probably safe to say this isn’t the last we’ll hear of such allegations.

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