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Jeremy Corbyn in new anti-Semitism row over century-old book

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is embroiled in a new row over anti-Semitism Credit: PA

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has come under fire after it emerged he wrote a foreword to a century-old book which argued that banks and newspapers were controlled by Jews.

In a new edition of economist JA Hobson’s Imperialism: A Study, published while Mr Corbyn was a backbencher in 2011, the MP described the work - written in 1902 - as "brilliant, and very controversial at the time” and "a great tome".

Labour has denied his comments amounted to an endorsement of sections of the book which are widely regarded as anti-Semitic.

In the book, Hobson suggested finance in Europe was controlled "by men of a singular and peculiar race who have behind them many centuries of financial experience" and "are in a unique position to control the policy of nations".

He argued the great financial houses have "control which they exercise over the body of public opinion through the press".

John McDonnell has told ITV News the Labour leader was not wrong to write the foreward to Hobson because he was "concentrating on the economic analysis".

He added: "There is a whole range of people of that generation who did use anti-semitic language.

"We’ve moved on from that but when you actually look at our society today, in terms of what is happening to the Jewish communities, the attacks on synagogues, the attacks on Jewish cemeteries and on Jewish schools, we need to learn some lessons that we haven’t fully eradicated - that’s why we need to work together."

Shadow business secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey told ITV News she had not read Hobson’s book, but said Mr Corbyn "wouldn't condone" any racist or anti-Semitic comments.

She said: "I understand Jeremy was commenting on the political thinker of that time not supporting the comments made by that political thinker and any anti-Semitic comments that were made by that writer or indeed any other writer, Jeremy or anyone else in the Labour party certainly wouldn't condone."

Hobson’s theory that imperialism was driven by international finance seeking new markets was quoted approvingly by Lenin.

Mr Corbyn wrote in his foreword: "Hobson’s railing against the commercial interests that fuel the role of the popular press with tales of imperial might, that then lead on to racist caricatures of African and Asian peoples, was both correct and prescient."

Former Labour MP Ian Austin has spoken out over Jeremy Corbyn's foreward in JA Hobson's book. Credit: PA

Former Labour MP Ian Austin, who quit the party earlier this year in protest at Mr Corbyn’s handling of anti-Semitism allegations, said: "Jeremy Corbyn endorsed (a) book that peddles racist stereotypes of Jewish financiers and imperialism as 'brilliant' and a 'great tome' … He is completely unfit to lead the Labour Party.”

But historian Tristram Hunt, who quit Labour in 2017 to take up the post of director of the Victoria and Albert Museum, said it was “reductive” to see Hobson purely as an anti-Semitic figure, arguing that he was “an important figure, worthy of study, within the 20th century liberal tradition”.

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Conservative peer Lord Finkelstein, who uncovered the foreword in The Times, asked: “Did Mr Corbyn not read the book before he praised it? Did he read it but, as with the Mear One mural, not notice that it was anti-Semitic? Did he realise it but decide it didn’t matter because there were other more important things about it?

“One thing is clear – the problem of left-wing anti-Semitism isn’t really about Israel, it’s much more deeply embedded than that.”

A Labour Party spokesman said: "Jeremy praised the Liberal Hobson’s century-old classic study of imperialism in Africa and Asia.

"Similarly to other books of its era, Hobson’s work contains outdated and offensive references and observations, and Jeremy completely rejects the anti-Semitic elements of his analysis."