Corbyn defends record on anti-Semitism after ‘hurtful’ attack by ex-chief rabbi

Jeremy Corbyn (Stefan Rousseau/PA) Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

Jeremy Corbyn has hit out at a former chief rabbi for comparing the Labour leader to Enoch Powell.

Rabbi Lord Sacks compared Mr Corbyn’s remarks regarding a group of British Zionists with Mr Powell’s incendiary 1968 “Rivers of Blood” speech.

The Labour leader said the comparison was “offensive” and “excessive” and insisted he was committed to tackling anti-Semitism.

On BBC1’s Andrew Marr Show the Labour leader urged Jewish people considering leaving the country if he entered Number 10 to remain in the UK.

Following a summer dominated by rows over his past conduct and the Labour leadership’s response to problems in the party, Mr Corbyn said he was “absolutely not” an anti-Semite.

“I have spent my whole life opposing racism in any form and I will die fighting racism in any form.”

One of the incidents that has triggered the row around Mr Corbyn was his apparent defence of a mural by street artist Mear One which was viewed as anti-Semitic.

Mr Corbyn later admitted he had not properly looked at the image before raising concerns about plans to paint over it.

Asked if he now believed it was anti-Semitic, Mr Corbyn said: “I think it shouldn’t have been put up.”

Another row involved footage from 2013 of Mr Corbyn attacking a group of British Zionists who had criticised Palestinian ambassador Manuel Hassassian, claiming they did not understand “English irony” despite living in the country.

Mr Corbyn said: “It was not intended to be anti-Semitic in any way and I have no intention and have absolutely opposition in every way to anti-Semitism because I can see where it leads to.

“I can see where it leads to now – in Poland, Hungary, in central Europe – I can see where it led to in the past.

“We have to oppose racism in any form and I do.”

The “English irony” comments were condemned by Lord Sacks as “divisive, hateful and like Powell’s speech it undermines the existence of an entire group of British citizens by depicting them as essentially alien”.

But Mr Corbyn said: “I do find that quite hurtful, quite offensive… I say to Rabbi Sacks, with all due respect, that is beyond excessive.”

He also defended his presence at a wreath-laying ceremony at the Palestinian Martyrs Cemetery in Tunisia, insisting he was marking the death of “civilians and children” in an Israeli air raid.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused him of honouring one of the founders of the Black September terror group which carried out the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre.

But Mr Corbyn said: “I didn’t know they were there at the time… I’m not a supporter of Black September, of course.

“I do think that we should always commemorate those that have been killed by bombing raids and that’s what I was doing.”

Labour has also been embroiled in a row about the definition of anti-Semitism used in its code of conduct following concerns it could curb the ability to criticise Israel.

Mr Corbyn said: “I think it’s right that people should be able to discuss the establishment of the state of Israel but recognise the existence of the state of Israel and not prevent that kind of debate.”

Asked if he would show remorse to Jewish people, Mr Corbyn said: “I am an anti-racist and will die an anti-racist. Anti-Semitism is a scourge in any society, I have opposed it all my life and will continue to oppose it all my life.

“Under my leadership in this party we have been more specific about the definition, we have set out much better processes for dealing with incidents within the party and we are improving them even further to make sure that any complaints are dealt with quickly.

“The party must be and is a safe and welcoming place for all communities.”