Israel's president has accused the English of being anti-Semitic and claimed that MPs pander to Muslim voters. Shimon Peres, 87, said England was ''deeply pro-Arab'' and ''anti-Israeli'', adding: ''They always worked against us.'' In an interview on a Jewish website, he went on to say: ''There is in England a saying that an anti-Semite is someone who hates the Jews more than is necessary.'' His remarks provoked anger from senior MPs and Jewish leaders who said he had ''got it wrong''. But other groups backed Mr Peres and said the number of anti-Semitic incidents had risen dramatically in Britain.
Mr Peres, a Nobel Peace Prize-winner who was awarded an honorary knighthood by the Queen in 2008, said that England's attitude towards Jews was Israel's ''next big problem''. He said: ''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. ''And in England there has always been something deeply pro-Arab, of course, not among all Englishmen, and anti-Israeli, in the establishment. They abstained in the [pro-Zionist] 1947 UN partition resolution. They maintained an arms embargo against us in the 1950s. They always worked against us. They think the Arabs are the underdogs.''
By contrast, relations with Germany, France and Italy were ''pretty good'', he added. This follows the furore last week over David Cameron's remark that Gaza was a ''prison camp'', as he urged Israel to allow aid and people to move freely in and out of the territory.
Mr Peres made the comments in an interview with Professor Benny Morris, a historian at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, which was published on Tablet, a Jewish news website.
Mr Peres is one of Israel's longest-serving political leaders - an MP for 51 years and twice prime minister. He is firmly on the Israeli left.
He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994 jointly with Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat for his part as foreign minister in the peace talks which produced the landmark Oslo Accords.
But James Clappison, the Tory MP for Hertsmere and vice-chairman of Conservative Friends of Israel, said: ''Mr Peres has got this wrong. There are pro- and anti-Israel views in all European countries. Things are certainly no worse in this country.''
Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, a writer and broadcaster, said: ''The tolerance and pluralism make Britain one of the best countries in the world in which to live.''
Yet in Israel, Mr Peres is far from alone in holding such views. Aryeh Eldad, a right-wing member of the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, accused Britain of working against Israelis for decades, ever since it ''betrayed'' its promises to build a Jewish homeland when it governed Palestine under a League of Nations mandate. He accused the English of a ''quiet, polite form'' of anti-Semitism.
A spokesman for the Community Security Trust, a British charity set up to monitor anti-Semitism, said there had been a ''significant'' rise in anti-Semitic incidents. Last year there were 924 incidents.