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Margaret Hodge attacked Jeremy Corbyn over antisemitism because of 'complete misinterpretation' Labour's new rules, claims John McDonnell

Shadow chancellor says veteran MP 'harangued' Labour leader because of 'complete misunderstanding' of party's antisemitism policy

Benjamin Kentish
Political Correspondent
Wednesday 25 July 2018 08:49 BST
Margaret Hodge speaks about being on the receiving end of antisemitism as a Labour MP

Margaret Hodge's furious outburst at Jeremy Corbyn over antisemitism was a result of the Jewish MP failing to understand the party's new code of conduct, John McDonnell has said.

The Labour grandee called her party leader a "racist and an antisemite" last week amid a bitter row in the party over its handling of anti-Jewish abuse,

Dame Margaret and others were angry that Labour had refused to fully adopt an internationally-recognised definition of antisemitism when drawing up its new code of conduct.

However, Mr McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, said he had spoken to Dame Margaret and believed the row stemmed from a "complete misunderstanding" of the new rules.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "I was trying to understand why, so out of character, Margaret was so angry last week.

"I spoke to her at the weekend, then I heard her interview on Monday [on the Today programme] where she was saying 'Look, if this code goes through, this is what will happen.'

"I realised there was a complete misinterpretation of the code, so I can understand why she was so angry if that's what she believed this code would do. I think it's a complete misunderstanding and we can resolve that amicably and then move on."

Dame Margaret is facing disciplinary action over the incident after being informed by Jennie Formby, Labour's general secretary, that she was under investigation.

Many Labour MPs have defended the former minister and called for the probe to be dropped, but Mr Corbyn's spokesman vowed: "Action will be taken."

Mr McDonnell said he had told Mr Corbyn that "we've got to resolve this matter quickly" and that the Labour had agreed.

He added: "We want it resolved amicably and I think that can be done."

The shadow chancellor said Mr Corbyn had been left "deeply upset" following the row with Dame Margaret, who he said was "extremely angry and lost her cool".

He said: "Jeremy was deeply upset because when you have someone haranguing you in that way, of course it's upsetting. These sort of accusations, when he's worked so hard on the issues of anti-semitism and anti-racism - of course he's upset."

Tony Blair says the people around Jeremy Corbyn don’t take antisemitism seriously

The latest row over antisemitism in Labour erupted after the party leadership refused to adopt the full International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition in its code of conduct.

The party has agreed to use the definition but has not directly included four of the IHRA's 11 examples of antisemitic behaviour, amid claims they could stifle criticism of Israel.

These include comparing Israeli policies to those of the Nazis, or suggesting the creation of the Jewish state was a racist endeavour. The other two examples refer to accusing Jewish people of being more loyal to Israel than their home country, or holding Israel to higher standards than other countries.

Party officials have insisted the examples are covered elsewhere in the code of conduct, and say the document goes further than the IHRA definition.

Asked about the row, Mr McDonnell said: "We are a party that is anti-racist and anti-semitist. We are against anti-semitism, we are a party that tackles anti-semitism wherever it is, either in our party or our community.

"We're going to tackle this and we'll lead that campaign to make sure Jewish people are respected and feel safe within our community. That's what our role is and Jeremy is as committed to that as anyone else within our party and anyone else within our community."

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