Jeremy Corbyn defends 'Zionists don't understand English irony' remarks as Tories report him to parliamentary watchdog

Labour leader insists comments were directed at particular group of 'pro-Israel activists'

Tom Barnes
Tuesday 28 August 2018 12:50 BST
Jeremy Corbyn releases video apologising for antisemitism in the Labour party

Jeremy Corbyn has defended a 2013 speech in which he suggested British Zionists do not understand “English irony” after Conservative MPs reported him to the parliamentary standards watchdog over his comments.

Tory complainants argued the remark breached the members’ code of conduct and brought parliament into disrepute.

Mr Corbyn nonetheless stood behind the comments, insisting that he was referring to a specific group of “pro-Israel activists” and had not used the term Zionist as a “euphemism” for the Jewish community.

He said he had spoken at the conference to “defend the Palestinian ambassador in the face of what I thought were deliberate misrepresentations” from people “for whom English was a first language, when it isn’t for the ambassador”.

“I described those pro-Israel activists as Zionists, in the accurate political sense and not as a euphemism for Jewish people – and that is made clear in the rest of my speech that day,” he said. “I am now more careful with how I might use the term ‘Zionist’ because a once self-identifying political term has been increasingly hijacked by antisemites as code for Jews.”

His comments came after it emerged that the Tory vice chairwoman for communities, Helen Grant, had written to the parliamentary commissioner for standards Kathryn Stone, asking that Mr Corbyn be investigated over the speech.

The Maidstone MP argued that it contravened Clause 17 of the MPs’ code of conduct, which states: “Members shall never undertake any actions which would cause significant damage to the reputation and integrity of the House of Commons as a whole, or of its members generally.”

She said the comments had been branded “xenophobic and antisemitic” by the chairman of the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism, and praised by Nick Griffin, the former leader of the far-right British National Party.

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“Mr Corbyn has undoubtedly brought this House and its members into disrepute,” she wrote. “This country has rightly always demanded more from our parliamentarians. It is clear that Mr Corbyn has not reached the bar set by the Code of Conduct for members, and I therefore ask that you investigate.”

During the meeting in question, footage of which was published on the MailOnline ​this week, 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.

Mr Corbyn then told the audience: “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.”

He added that British Zionists clearly had “two problems: one is 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.”

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

Marcus Dysch, head of external affairs at World ORT, a leading Jewish educational organisation, tweeted he personally believed Mr Corbyn's actions constituted “unambiguous antisemitic hate”.

Jewish Labour MP Luciana Berger had earlier said that the video contained “inexcusable comments” which made her feel “unwelcome in my own party”.

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