The two main parties in British politics appear to be locked in a battle to see who can get the most terrible press coverage.
While senior Conservative lawmaker Boris Johnson is hiding out after comparing Muslim women who wear burqas to letterboxes, and desperately trying to win sympathy by offering journalists cups of tea, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is being attacked by his own side for first denying, then admitting, and then refusing to apologize for attending a wreath-laying for a Palestinian leader linked to the massacre of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics in 1972.
On Tuesday—rather than admitting to a mistake—Corbyn became frustrated and ostentatiously rolled his eyes at a reporter for asking about an incident that most consider to be a pretty major error of judgment.
The left-wing Labour leader has been beset by accusations of enabling anti-Semitism in his party since he took over as leader in 2015. Things got so bad last month that a joint editorial published by country’s three most prominent Jewish newspapers claimed a government led by him would pose an “existential threat” to Jews living in Britain.
But the latest row over the wreath has somehow seen the anti-Semitism accusations escalate to new levels, and has caused an international incident, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu directly intervening in a tweet to say Corbyn deserves “unequivocal condemnation from everyone.”
When pictures of him laying the wreath in 2014 resurfaced in the Daily Mail, near the graves of four Palestinian leaders believed to be connected to Black September—which carried out the terror attack on Israelis at the 1972 Olympics, in which 11 people died—Corbyn initially claimed he was paying tribute to victims of an Israeli airstrike.
However, under heavy questioning, Corbyn later admitted that there was a second ceremony commemorating a Palestinian leader alleged to have been linked to Black September.
“I was present at that wreath-laying, I don’t think I was actually involved in it.” He added: “I was there because I wanted to see a fitting memorial to everyone who has died in every terrorist incident everywhere because we have to end it.”
The admission that he attended the wreath-laying was met with fury from Jewish groups, the Israeli government, and even from lawmakers in his own party who demanded an apology.
Labour MP Luciana Berger said: “Being ‘present’ is the same as being involved. When I attend a memorial, my presence alone, whether I lay a wreath or not, demonstrates my association & support. There can also never be a ‘fitting memorial’ for terrorists. Where is the apology?”
The president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, Marie van der Zyl, told the BBC: “After days of being evasive, Jeremy Corbyn has now admitted attending a memorial event for the terrorist murders of unarmed athletes. How can you say he is not involved?”
Netanyahu wrote: “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.”
Corbyn responded that Netanyahu’s accusations were “false” but didn't explain what errors the Israeli leader had made, instead attempting to move the focus of the discussion on by attacking Netanyahu for the killing of Palestinian protesters in Gaza.
But the conversation hasn’t moved on. The Labour leader reiterated to Sky News on Tuesday that he would not be apologizing for attending the wreath-laying, adding that there were “many other people laying many wreaths.”
And it’s the latest in a long line of scrapes with anti-Semitism for Corbyn.
The wreath row comes after a long summer of Corbyn and his leadership allies taking heat for refusing to adopt the official definition of anti-Semitism in the party’s rulebook. One of his own lawmakers, Margaret Hodge, told Corbyn she thought he was “an anti-Semitic racist.”
That’s after, earlier this year, he was exposed as being a member of three secret anti-Semitic Facebook groups. Before that, he was criticized for having offered support to an artist whose anti-Semitic mural was removed. And that’s not to mention the MPs, former mayors, and Labour student groups that have had their own anti-Semitism rows under Corbyn.
With the Conservatives now irretrievably split over Brexit, hit by high-profile government resignations, and Johnson being roundly criticized for his jibes toward already-vulnerable Muslim women, many in Britain will be desperately looking for a strong and effective opposition.
But they’ll look over to Labour and see another party and another leader locked in a crisis that they just can’t seem to shake.