Labour antisemitism claims dismissed as 'smears' by Diane Abbott

'There is no basis for arguing that the Labour party is riddled with antisemitism'

Ashley Cowburn
Sunday 01 May 2016 14:18 BST
Diane Abbott: Smear against Labour

Diane Abbott has waded into the row over antisemitism in Labour by dismissing claims the party has a problem as “smears” – as Len McCluskey claimed the furore was a “cynical attempt” to undermine Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership.

Ms Abbott, the shadow International Development Secretary and one of the Labour leader’s closest allies sought to play down tensions in the party, insisting robust action had been taken to combat antisemitism but denied the party was “riddled” with it.

Speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, Ms Abbott said: "It's something of a smear against ordinary party members, it is, it is a smear to say the Labour party has a problem with antisemitism.

"There is no basis for arguing that the Labour party is riddled with antisemitism and it's not fair on ordinary Labour party members, some of whom have spent a lifetime fighting racism and antisemitism in their schools, in their community, amongst people they know, to get up this morning and hear you insinuate that the Labour party is riddled with antisemitism."

Shortly after, Mr McCluskey, the General Secretary of Unite and Labour's biggest donor, said Mr Corbyn was the victim of "a cynical attempt to manipulate antisemitism for political aims".

"The idea that there is an antisemitic crisis within the Labour Party is absolutely offensive but it is being used in order to challenge Jeremy Corbyn," he told Pienaar's Politics on BBC Radio 5 Live.

"Once the mood music of antisemitism dies down, then next week and the week after there will be another subject. It is an issue that comes up because somebody says something stupid and then immediately it becomes a crisis."

The row had been "got up by the right-wing press aided and abetted by Labour MPs" and party grandees who "get out of their wheelchair and toss a few hand grenades in", he said.

Ms Abbott and Mr McCluskey's comments come just two days after Mr Corbyn launched an independent inquiry tasked with tackling antisemitism, to be led by Shami Chakrabarti, the former head of rights group Liberty.

Last week the Labour leader was forced to suspend his long-time ally Ken Livingstone, the former London Mayor, and Labour MP Naz Shah.

In a Facebook post in 2014, before she became MP for Bradford West, Ms Shah shared a graphic which showed an image of Israel's outline superimposed onto a map of the US under the headline "Solution for Israel-Palestine Conflict - Relocate Israel into United States", with the comment "problem solved".

A code of conduct will also "make explicitly clear for the first time that Labour will not tolerate any form of racism, including antisemitism, in the party" and provide guidance on acceptable language.

Mark Regev, the new Israeli ambassador to the Britain, also speaking on the Andrew Marr Show, said that Mr Livingstone's assertion was "a horrendous perversion of history" that appeared to paint those who helped get Jews out of Nazi Germany as collaborators.

In a message to Mr Corbyn, he said: "It is crucial for leadership to stand up and to condemn antisemitism in unequivocal terms.

"It is important that leadership is also not neutral or agnostic about antisemitism.

"You have had too many people on the progressive side of politics who have embraced Hamas and Hezbollah. Both of them are antisemitic organisations.

On Saturday the leader of the Israeli Labor Party wrote to the Labour leader to say he is “appalled and outraged” at examples of alleged antisemitism in the party’s ranks. “I would like to take this opportunity, in the week leading up to Holocaust Memorial Day in Israel, to invite you to bring a delegation from the British Labour Party to Israel’s national Holocaust museum, Yad Vashem”, Mr Herzog wrote.

“By doing this, perhaps we can ensure that the antisemitism expressed in recent days is not the example to set to [sic] British young generation, but rather one of tolerance and acceptance of all people, regardless of faith.”

The Labour leader was this week forced to suspend his long-time ally Ken Livingstone over antisemitism row

Mr Herzog added: “As someone whose father served in the British army and risked his life fighting against Hitler and the Nazis, the views expressed by Ken Livingstone, the former Mayor of London and member of Labour’s national executive, in which he claimed that Hitler 'was supporting Zionism before he went mad and ended up killing six million Jews' were particularly horrific, and unthinkable for a British politician and the 21st century.”

Meanwhile, Sadiq Khan, Labour’s Mayoral candidate, admitted he fears his prospects of being elected in London have been dealt a blow by Mr Livingstone’s comments.

In an interview with the Observer, Mr Khan said: “I accept that the comments that Ken Livingstone has made make it more difficult for Londoners of Jewish faith to feel that the Labour party is a place for them, and so I will carry on doing what I have always been doing, which is to speak for everyone. If I should have the privilege to be the mayor I will show Londoners the sort of mayor I can be.”

This week on Thursday – dubbed “Super Thursday” – voters will head to the polls in a series of elections, including London’s Mayoral contest. It will be the first significant electoral test of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership.

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