Corbyn accused in fresh antisemitism row after claiming Zionists in Britain 'don’t understand English irony'

One Labour MP describes the comment as 'inexcusable', while another says he is 'sickened'

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Friday 24 August 2018 18:53 BST
Jeremy Corbyn releases video apologising for antisemitism in the Labour party

Jeremy Corbyn is embroiled in a fresh antisemitism row after he was filmed claiming Zionists in Britain “don’t understand English irony”.

Some Labour MPs reacted with horror when the video footage, from a speech given in 2013, emerged with one describing the comment as “inexcusable” and another saying he was “sickened”.

A leading Jewish charity accused the Labour leader of “unambiguous antisemitic hate” after he was caught on camera making his remarks at a pro-Palestinian event.

Labour was forced into a damage limitation exercise, with key ally John McDonnell insisting Mr Corbyn’s words had been “taken out of context”.

A spokeswoman for the party leader, meanwhile, said Mr Corbyn had been “referring to a group of pro-Israel activists”, Jewish and non-Jewish.

The fresh controversy blew up at a time when the Labour leader has spent weeks being dogged by allegations of antisemitism, sparked in part by Labour’s refusal to adopt a full international definition of the term.

In the contentious excerpt, Mr Corbyn praised a speech by Manuel Hassassian, the Palestinian Authority representative to the UK, as an “incredibly powerful” account of the history of Palestine.

He then said: “This was dutifully recorded by the, thankfully silent, Zionists who were in the audience on that occasion, and then came up and berated him afterwards for what he had said.

“They clearly have two problems. One is that they don’t want to study history, and secondly, having lived in this country for a very long time, probably all their lives, [they] don’t understand English irony either.

“Manuel does understand English irony, and uses it very effectively. So I think they needed two lessons, which we can perhaps help them with.”

Luciana Berger, a prominent Labour MP, condemned “inexcusable comments” which made her feel “unwelcome in my own party”, adding: “I’ve lived in Britain all my life and I don’t need any lessons in history [or] irony.”

Her colleague Mike Gapes said he was in “total solidarity” with Ms Berger, and that he was “sickened by the racism and antisemitism at the top of our party”.

Another Labour MP – Wes Streeting – said Mr Corbyn’s language was “inexcusable and abhorrent”, adding: “I wasn’t silent when Boris Johnson insulted my Muslim constituents and I won’t remain silent when Labour’s leader insults my Jewish constituents. This is plain wrong.”

In her report on antisemitism in the Labour party, commissioned by Mr Corbyn two years ago, Baroness Chakrabarti described “Zionist” as a term of abuse for Jews.

But Mr McDonnell insisted: “I think this has all been taken out of context.

“Whatever Jeremy has said throughout the years has always been about how to secure peace, particularly within the Middle East, and also peace with justice for all concerned – both members of the Jewish community and also members of the Palestinian community.

“In that context, Jeremy has devoted his life [to peace], so I think [to] take expressions out of context in that way are not helping.”

A spokesperson for Mr Corbyn said: “At this event, he was referring to a group of pro-Israel activists misunderstanding and then criticising the Palestinian ambassador for a speech at a separate event, about the occupation of the West Bank.”

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