Jeremy Corbyn was criticised on Tuesday after his Labour party questioned the UK government’s plan to widen a ban on Hizbollah, the Lebanese Shia movement.
Sajid Javid, the home secretary, said on Monday that the UK would ban all wings of the group because of its destabilising influence in the Middle East — and classified it as a terrorist organisation.
But Labour questioned whether there was “clear evidence” behind the decision to extend the existing ban on Hizbollah’s military wing to its political arm.
“The home secretary must therefore now demonstrate that this decision was taken in an objective and impartial way, and driven by clear and new evidence, not by his leadership ambitions,” a spokesman for the opposition party said.
Labour was not planning to vote against the ban on Tuesday evening but its decision not to whip, or enforce party discipline on the matter, drew criticism in some quarters.
Wes Streeting, a Labour MP, said he supported the proscription “without hesitation or equivocation” and would vote for it. “Given voters’ concerns about the instincts of the Labour leadership on security and defence this is a very poor judgement indeed,” he said.
Mike Gapes, a former Labour MP — who quit the party a week ago — said: “They [the leadership] are unfit for government. And a threat to national security”.
Mr Corbyn has previously apologised for describing representatives of Hizbollah as “friends” during a meeting in parliament in 2009. The Labour leader, a life-long opponent of Israel, has been battling to contain allegations of anti-Semitism among some Labour members.
A spokesman for Theresa May, prime minister, said the government had assessed the Lebanon-based group “in its entirety”.
“Hizbollah itself has publicly denied a distinction between its military and political wings,” he said. “The links between the senior leaders of Hizbollah’s political and military wings as well as the group’s destabilising role in the region mean that the distinction between the two wings is now untenable.”
The proscription order will bring Britain in line with a number of countries, including the US, which have designated the whole of Hizbollah as a terrorist group. From Friday, membership will be a criminal offence carrying a maximum sentence of up to 10 years.
Hizbollah, which means ‘party of God’, is a Shia Muslim movement that began as an armed group resisting Israeli occupation in Lebanon in the 1980s. It is closely aligned with — and receives financial backing from — the Iranian government. In 2001 the British government banned its external security organisation, before extending the proscription to its military wing in 2008.
A listing in the official register of banned groups says Hizbollah is “committed to armed resistance to the state of Israel, and aims to seize all Palestinian territories and Jerusalem from Israel”.
Labour said the Foreign Office had “rightly” taken the view for years that proscribing the political wing of Hizbollah would make it difficult to maintain diplomatic relations with Lebanon — where it controls three ministries.
“It [the ban] would make it difficult to maintain normal diplomatic relations with Lebanon, or to work with the government on humanitarian issues, including those facing Syrian refugees, in parts of the country controlled by Hizbollah,” the party said.
But Sadiq Khan, Labour mayor of London, said he welcomed Mr Javid’s action: “anti-Semitism and hate crime has no place in our city,” he said. “I’ve raised my deep concerns about the support shown for Hizbollah at the annual Al Quds march [which protests Israel’s occupation of East Jerusalem] in London on a number of occasions.”