Jeremy Corbyn praised the "verve and spirit" of Israeli towns and stressed the nation does have the right to exist. But the Labour leader refused to refer to himself as a "Zionist", while backing "reasonable" boycotts of goods from illegal settlements.
The left-winger, who once described terror groups Hamas and Hezbollah as "friends", made the comments during the final Labour leadership hustings of the campaign at the JW3 centre in North London. t last night (18 September)
An audience member also challenged Corbyn over the suspension over Ken Livingstone, the former Mayor of London who claimed Nazi leader Adolf Hitler was a Zionist.
"What will it take to expel Ken Livingstone?" the Labour leader was asked. Corbyn, a close ally of Livingstone, refused to be drawn on the matter and said "due process" would follow as part of the party's ongoing investigation.
Baroness Shami Chakrabarti's investigation into anti-Semitism within Labour was also mentioned, with Labour leadership challenger Owen Smith denying the report was a "whitewash". But the Pontypridd MP promised to launch another inquiry if he gains power, describing Chakrabarti's as "inadequate".
Corbyn confirmed tougher anti-Semitism rules will be voted on by Labour's governing body, the National Executive Committee, tomorrow. But the Labour leader drew heckles when he said he rejected the European Union's working definition of anti-Semitism.
"Anti-Semitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews," the definition states.
"Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities."
The debate came just a few days before the Labour leadership election ballot deadline on Wednesday (21 September). Corbyn, who secured almost 60% of the vote last year, is expected to retain the top job.