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Union boss ‘accuses Israel of starting anti-Semitism row to mask atrocities’

Mark Serwotka is the general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services union which represents around 200,000 members (Gareth Fuller/PA) Photo: PA Archive/PA Images

The leader of one of the country’s foremost trade unions has risked igniting further accusations of anti-Semitism within the Labour party by reportedly hinting Israel created the issue to mask its own “atrocities”.

Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) which represents around 200,000 members, is said to have made the comments during a fringe meeting at the Trades Union Congress conference in Manchester this week.

Audio footage broadcast on The Independent website, attributed to Mr Serwotka, cited Donald Trump’s decision to shift the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem – a deeply divisive move that broke with a decades-old international position and triggered furious protests – as well as the bloody deaths of unarmed Palestinians at the hands of the Israeli military as among the real issues being distracted from by accusations of anti-Semitism.

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He is alleged to have said: “I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but I’ll tell you what – one of the best forms of trying to hide from the atrocities that you are committing is to go on the offensive and actually create a story that does not exist for people on this platform, the trade union movement or, I have to say, for the leader of the Labour Party.”

A PCS spokesman said: “Mark spoke at a Palestine Solidarity Campaign fringe event at the TUC – an organisation PCS is affiliated to.

“He made the point at the start of the meeting that we need to oppose anti-Semitism in society and within the labour movement.

“But we should not allow the issue of anti-Semitism to be used by people who are attempting to silence Palestinian voices as they legitimately struggle for their rights and a sovereign state.”

The comments come at the end of a summer dominated by accusations of anti-Semitism within Labour, with former prominent frontbencher Chuka Umunna branding the party “institutionally racist” at the weekend over its handling of the anti-Semitism row.