Britain's top diplomat in Jerusalem met cleric who had compared Jews to 'apes and pigs'

Consul-General Diane Corner held a formal meeting last week with Abbas adviser Mahmoud al-Habbash


Britain's top diplomat in Jerusalem, the UK Consul-General Diane Corner, held a formal meeting last week with a senior Palestinian cleric who has claimed on television that Jews are “cursed by Allah” and comparable to “apes and pigs”.

Mahmoud al-Habbash, the Palestinian Authority’s foremost Shariah judge and the spiritual adviser to PA president Mahmoud Abbas, gave a sermon last September in which he also said Muslims should not allow the al-Aqsa mosque to be “abandoned as prey to the grazing herd of humanoids, of people or creatures that Allah created in the form of humans.”

The cleric has also previously said that there was a “supreme duty” to ensure that the Temple Mount in Jerusalem was “returned, liberated, defended and purified from the defilement of the occupation and theft”. 

It follows the revelation that Corner’s deputy, Anne McEwen, led a UK team of Foreign Office colleagues in the Palestine Marathon, an event held in protest against Israel’s “apartheid wall”. The diplomats were pictured at the event in T-shirts showing a map which campaigners claimed “erases Israel”,  prompting fury among MPs.

Parliamentary chair of Conservative Friends of Israel Stephen Crabb attacked the diplomats’ involvement as “incredibly ill-judged”, and Labour Friends of Israel chair Steve McCabe MP has requested an explanation from Foreign Secretary James Cleverly.

A tweet issued by the official UK mission to the Palestinians states that Corner had met al-Habbash “to discuss what more could be done to protect and progress Palestinian women’s rights in law”.

The post included a photograph of the pair standing in front of a furled Palestinian flag, and ended with the hashtag “#8MarchWomensDay”.

The tweet revealing that Corner met Habbash on March 8 was first noticed by the Jerusalem NGO Palestinian Media Watch (PMW), the same organisation that initially drew attention to Team UK’s participation in the marathon race.

Maurice Hirsch, PMW’s legal director, told the JC that “something evil” seemed to be afoot at the UK mission.

He said: “There is no reason in the world why any British diplomat with any self-respect should be meeting someone who has referred to Jews as grazing humanoids and likened us to apes and pigs. This is an absolute and shameful disgrace and Diane Corner should be immediately removed from her post if she does not know the views of the people she is meeting.

“It amounts to condoning and endorsing pure antisemitism.”

On Thursday Steve McCabe MP, chair of Labour Friends of Israel, tabled a written parliamentary question to Foreign Secretary James Cleverly, asking him “what assessment he has made of reports that staff from the British Consulate General in Jerusalem took part in a marathon event wearing t-shirts which erase Israel's existence on 10 March 2023”.

McCabe told the JC: “If these reports are accurate they are a cause for concern, and we need to hear some explanation as to why this happened and who authorised it. That is why I have tabled a Parliamentary Question for the Foreign Secretary.”

Pressed repeatedly by the JC, the Foreign Office has so far refused to comment on the UK mission’s role in the race, saying only that British foreign policy is to support a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict.

McCabe’s Tory counterpart, Stephen Crabb, the parliamentary chair of Conservative Friends of Israel, has already slammed the British officials who took part. He told the JC: “It is deeply troubling that British diplomats have been happily photographed with maps appearing to replace Israel with a Palestinian state. 

“The UK Foreign Office often asserts that it challenges the Palestinian Authority over its denial of Israel’s existence. I trust that the Foreign Secretary will now make clear to his own officials how incredibly ill-judged it was for them to seemingly endorse the removal of one of our closest allies - Israel - from the map.” 

Diplomatic sources have told the JC that Israel’s foreign ministry is “deeply concerned” by the marathon affair, and intends to raise it with UK officials. Next week Israel’s foreign minister Eli Cohen is due to meet Cleverly in London, while PM Binyamin Netanyahu is expected to see Rishi Sunak in Downing St shortly afterwards.

The Foreign Office declined to comment on the meeting between Corner and Habbash. 

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