LFI chair Joan Ryan wrote this week to Jeremy Corbyn asking him to explain his apparent decision to honour the terrorists behind the Munich massacre during a 2014 visit to Tunisia.
Ms Ryan also called upon the Labour leader to apologise to the bereaved families of the 11 Israeli athletes who were brutally murdered by the Palestinian terrorist group Black September during the 1972 Olympics.
Images of Mr Corbyn at a wreath-laying ceremony were published in last weekend’s newspapers. The Labour party initially denied that he honoured those responsible for Munich, suggesting instead that he went to the Palestinian cemetery in Tunisia to remember the victims of the 1985 Israeli bombing of the PLO headquarters.
However, the Labour leader later told the media that he had been present when a wreath was laid on the graves of “those who were killed in Paris in 1992” but added: “I don’t think I was actually involved in it.”
This was an apparent reference to Atef Bseiso, who was head of intelligence for the PLO and was involved in the murder of the Israeli athletes as part of the 1972 Black September terrorist operation in Munich. Bseiso was killed in Paris in 1992. Israel is believed to have tracked down and killed almost all of those involved the Olympics attack.
A photograph published by the Daily Mail, which was found on the website of the Palestinian Embassy in Tunisia, clearly shows Mr Corbyn holding a wreath. Photos from the ceremony also show him in front of a plaque honouring Black September founder Salah Khalaf; an aide, Fakhri al-Omari; and Hayel Abdel-Hamid, the PLO head of security. Bseiso’s grave is alongside theirs.
In an article for the Morning Star in October 2014, published shortly after he returned from north Africa, Mr Corbyn stated that wreaths were laid “at the graves of those who died on that day [in 1985] and on the graves of others killed by Mossad agents in Paris in 1991 [sic]”.
Khalaf died in Tunisia in 1991 at the hands of rival Palestinian factions. Mr Corbyn’s original article appears to have conflated the two incidents.
The Daily Mail found that a memorial to those who died in the 1985 Israeli air raid on Tunisia is some 15 metres from where the wreath-laying ceremony took place.
In her letter to Mr Corbyn, Ms Ryan said she was “deeply disturbed” by the images of Mr Corbyn. She continued:
“I believe it is imperative that you urgently address this issue and make clear whether or not you were honouring Black September terrorists and, if so, what part of this organisation’s bloody record you believe it is appropriate for a British parliamentarian to seemingly endorse.”
Ms Ryan also urged him to apologise to those who lost relatives in the Munich attack:
“The widows of some of those who were so brutally murdered at Munich have expressed their disbelief and sadness that you appear to have participated in an event at the graves of their husbands’ killers. Even if your participation was inadvertent, I would urge you to offer a full and unreserved apology to the families of the victims of Munich. Whatever our different perspectives on the Israel-Palestine conflict, I am sure that, on a human level, you would wish to reach out to them publicly to express your regret at adding to their suffering.”
Ms Ryan’s letter concluded: “I note that, despite repeated invitations dating back two years (and visiting the region two months ago), you still do not appear to have set a date to visit Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum and memorial in Jerusalem. The contrast between that failure and your trip to Tunis is a stark one, and I would suggest that you may wish to consider the message that it sends to the Jewish community in Britain and the people of Israel.”
Ankie Spitzer and Ilana Romano, the widows of Andre Spitzer and Yossef Romano, two of the 11 murdered at Munich, said Mr Corbyn was guilty of an “act of maliciousness, cruelty and stupidity” and argued that he “has no place in politics, or in decent, humane society when he is driven by one-sided hate and vengefulness”. They added: “We do not recall a visit of Mr Corbyn to the graves of our murdered fathers, sons and husbands.”
Following Mr Corbyn’s initial statement on Monday, LFI director Jennifer Gerber accused him of adding “further insult to those savagely murdered at Munich and their bereaved relatives”. Ms Gerber said: “He says he was paying respect to victims of terrorism when there is clear photographic evidence of him holding a wreath at the grave of the terrorists themselves. Jeremy Corbyn’s appalling actions, and Labour’s attempted cover up, is another truly shameful day for the party he leads.”
On Monday evening, Benjamin Netanyahu joined the growing row, Tweeting: “The laying of a wreath by Jeremy Corbyn on the graves of the terrorist who perpetrated the Munich massacre and his comparison of Israel to the Nazis deserves unequivocal condemnation from everyone – left, right and everything in between.”
However, Mr Corbyn showed no sign of contrition. He called the Israeli prime minister’s accusations “false” and attacked the killing of Gazans during border protests and the passage of the controversial National State law.
Questioned on calls for him to apologise, the Labour leader told the media: “No, I’m not apologising for being there at all” and said that he had, in fact, laid a wreath, but this was to honour those who died in 1985.
The row over Mr Corbyn’s trip to Munich followed the revelation last Friday that the Labour leader had previously compared Israel to the Nazis. Footage from 2013 showed Mr Corbyn telling an event that the Palestinians in the West Bank live “under occupation of the very sort that would be recognised by many people in Europe who suffered occupation during the second world war”.
The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism – which Labour’s National Executive Committee last month refused to accept in its entirety – bars comparisons between Israel and Nazi Germany.
In response, Ms Gerber said: “Earlier this week, we discovered that Jeremy Corbyn engaged in wild conspiracy theories questioning Israel’s right to exist.
“Today, it is revealed he drew comparisons between conditions in the West Bank and the Nazi occupation of Europe. It is increasingly clear that his opposition to adopting the IHRA definition in full appears to be overwhelmingly driven by his own appalling past statements.
She added: “The Labour party’s once proud record on fighting racism and the protection of British Jews from anti-Semitism is being sacrificed to protect Jeremy Corbyn’s reputation.”
On Thursday, the Labour party also defended shadow chancellor John McDonnell after comments he made during the 2012 Gaza war came to light in which he accused Israel of “effectively an attempt at genocide against the Palestinians”. McDonnell said the Daily Telegraph, which revealed the story, was “doing a number on” him. The Labour party said the shadow chancellor “takes pride in and stands by his track record of forcefully and justifiably condemning the brutal attacks on the Palestinian men, women and children of Gaza and will always stand up for the victims of such disproportionate violence”.