Harriet Harman enrages Andrew Neil by recounting anti-Semitic joke during live BBC broadcast

The Labour MP was trying to recount the unacceptable insistences of racism she has come across in the past

Caroline Mortimer@cjmortimer
Friday 03 November 2017 16:10
Harriet Harman recounts anti-semitic joke provoking backlash from Andrew Neil

Harriet Harman has been criticised by Jewish groups for repeating an anti-Semitic joke on the BBC.

The Labour party deputy leader was speaking on Andrew Neil’s This Week where they were discussing whether it was ever acceptable to make bad-taste jokes when she repeated an anti-Semitic joke she had protested against in the past.

She said: “I’ve long been accused of being a humourless feminist and I’ll give you two examples that I’ll protest about because they were offensive and hurtful.

“So, this was a Guy's Hospital rag magazine back in the day, and people like Andrew say that these things are perfectly all right.

“One was ‘How do you get a hundred Jews into a mini? One in the driving seat, 99 in the ashtray’ and that is not funny.”

Mr Neil reacted with fury at the comment and said: “All right, well we’ll stop with that one example and we won’t bore with the minute silence that you would dare to think that I would think about that because you have no knowledge of that at all.”

She then tried to defend herself but he told her to be quiet.

Mr Neil is has been vocal in the past about the need to fight anti-Semitism and recently addressed the Holocaust Education Trust where he spoke of how it was becoming more insidious and how society needed to be even more vigilant.

Writing on Twitter after the programme was aired, the presenter said: “What was wrong was 1) Even to tell that so called joke on live TV. 2) Claim I would like the joke. Appalling on both counts”.

He rejected claims he had overreacted to Ms Harman’s, saying: “Really? How would [you] have handled being accused of liking a vile anti-Semitic slur?”

But Ms Harman defended herself on Twitter by posting an extract from her recent autobiography, A Woman’s Work, where she recounted seeing the anti-Semitic joke, along with another racist one about a Pakistani man, which she complained about to the hospital and referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions.

She wrote: “The South London Press ran an editorial condemning me for overreacting and being humourless. But the Jewish community and local black and Asian organisations were deeply appreciative when the hospital apologised.”

Ms Harman has been the MP for Camberwell and Peckham in south London since 1983 and her constituency includes Guy's Hospital.

But Simon Johnson, the chief executive of the Jewish Leadership Council, said it was still a "staggering error of judgement" to repeat it on live television.

He told The Independent: “I cannot recall being so disappointed in a politician. Harriet Harman must surely know better than to repeat a vile holocaust joke, irrespective of the point she was trying to make. She must apologise and do so quickly. It is a staggering error of judgement.”