British Houses of Parliament (file)
British Houses of Parliament (file)Thinkstock

The UK parliament has heard testimony from the leader of British Jewry's major community organization as part of a probe into anti-Semitism.

Jonathan Arkush, President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, was giving evidence at the Home Affairs Select Committee anti-Semitism hearing in the House of Commons, which was called in light of rising anti-Semitism in Europe, and held in the aftermath of an anti-Semitism scandal which engulfed the UK Labour Party.

Disgraced former Mayor of London Ken Livingstone - who has been suspended from Labour for remarks claiming Adolf Hitler supported Zionism - was present during Arkush's testimony, and also presented his own statements.

Arkush told assembled MPs and officials of his concerns as a British Jew over the looming threat of anti-Semitism in the UK. Although anti-Jewish hate crime is nowhere near the levels seen in parts of mainland Europe, Arkush emphasized that he feared anti-Semitism in Britain could potentially reach the unbearable levels seen in France, if the phenomenon wasn't stamped out.

He noted that Jewish institutions, including schools and synagogues, were forced to install 24-security systems and "look like fortresses" as a result of the ongoing threat of anti-Semitic violence.

Arkush also slammed Livingstone's Hitler remarks, telling the committee he was "horrified" by what he heard, which he described - along with other anti-Jewish comments by Labour officials - as a "historic calumny."

"I was horrified when I heard them," Arkush said. "In fact when I heard about them I felt a feeling of complete disbelief - especially as the row was raging with suspensions at the Labour party" over other members' anti-Semitic remarks. 

"As a British citizen, who lives and works in this country as I have done all my life, I could not believe I was hearing someone in political life say that... Hitler was a Zionist.

"It was not just the most absurd or ridiculous statement, it was a hateful thing to say."

Arkush took on anti-Semites who dress their bigotry behind "criticism of Israel," noting that while it is of course possible to criticize Israeli policies without being anti-Semitic, the obsession with the only Jewish state in the world exhibited by individuals such as Livingstone was telling.

"I think you absolutely can have a particular interest in the Middle East as a region," Arkush said.

"But if you just have a focus on Israel that becomes obsessive, and you ignore what's going on the neighboring countries - which on any basis are the most egregious human rights abuses you can imagine, compared to what in the end is a law-based society, a democracy, in Israel - then I do wonder."

Unsurprisingly, Livingstone - who has a long history of anti-Semitic comments, and who has remained unrepentant since his Hitler remarks earlier this year - was similarly impenitent, and even repeated his Hitler theory to the committee.

Watch: Board of Deputies President Jonathan Arkush's full evidence to UK anti-Semitism inquiry: