LONDON (JTA) — Israeli President Shimon Peres has denied calling the British anti-Semites.
In a statement issued late Sunday night by his spokesman, Peres backtracked on quotes attributed to him in an interview with the Jewish news website Tablet.
“President Peres never accused the British people of anti-Semitism," the statement said, according to the Telegraph of London " The president does not believe that British governments are motivated by anti-Semitism, nor were they in the past."
Peres had caused a storm in England after accusing the British establishment of being "deeply pro-Arab" and "anti-Israeli."
"In England there has always been something deeply pro-Arab, of course, not among all Englishmen, and anti-Israeli, in the establishment," he told Tablet in a Q&A conducted by the Israeli historian Benny Morris.
Peres, who in 2008 received an honorary knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II, said the British “abstained in the [pro-Zionist] 1947 U.N. partition resolution … They maintained an arms embargo against us in the 1950s … They had a defense treaty with Jordan, they always worked against us."
The Israeli president went on to say that the British “think the Palestinians are the underdog … "Even though this is irrational.”
On British anti-Semitism, Peres, 86, noted that "There is in England a saying that an anti-Semite is someone who hates the Jews more than is necessary."
Peres accused British lawmakers of pandering to Muslim voters in order to retain their seats in Parliament.
"There are several million Muslim voters, and for many members of Parliament, that’s the difference between getting elected and not getting elected," he said.
British Prime Minister David Cameron last week described Gaza as a "prison camp" during a visit to Turkey.
Peres’ comments generated angry reactions from Jewish and non-Jewish members of Parliament.
Conservative lawmaker James Clappison, vice chairman of Conservative Friends of Israel, said Peres "got it wrong."
"There are pro- and anti-Israel views in all European countries," Clappison said in an interview that appeared Sunday in the Telegraph of London. "Things are certainly no worse, as far as Israel is concerned, in this country than other European countries."
Rabbi Jonathan Romain of the Maidenhead synagogue also told the newspaper, "It is a sweeping statement that is far too one-sided," adding that "The tolerance and pluralism here make Britain one of the best countries in the world in which to live."
However, Jacob Vince, the director of Christian Friends of Israel, described Peres’ remarks as "measured and moderate." He added that there was anti-Semitism in Britain, although many people had a positive view of Israel but were unwilling to express it publicly.
Vince said it was "difficult to see how many MPs would not be influenced by the number of Muslim voters in their constituencies."
The past decade has seen a significant rise in anti-Semitic incidents in Britain, according to data collected by the Community Security Trust, which was established in 1984 to monitor such incidents. In 2009 there were 924 anti-Semitic incidents — 55 percent higher than the record set in 2006.
The incidents include only verifiable reports of physical assaults, verbal abuse and racist graffiti.