UK Politics

Jewish Labour MP 'feels unwelcome' after Corbyn comments

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionCorbyn suggests group of Zionists need lessons in history and irony

A Jewish Labour MP has said she feels "unwelcome" in the party after a video emerged showing Jeremy Corbyn accusing British Zionists of having "no sense of English irony".

Liverpool Wavertree MP Luciana Berger described the Labour leader's comments, in a 2013 speech, as "inexcusable".

The clip was published on the Daily Mail website as Mr Corbyn makes efforts to tackle anti-Semitism in his party.

An ally of Mr Corbyn said his remarks had been "taken out of context".

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell said the focus should not be on what Mr Corbyn said five years ago, before he became party leader, but on tackling anti-Semitism in British society, including within Labour.

Zionism refers to the movement to create a Jewish state in the Middle East, roughly corresponding to the historical land of Israel, and thus support for the modern state of Israel.

In the speech - made at an event at the Palestinian Return Centre - Mr Corbyn recalled a disagreement between some Zionists and the Palestinian representative to the UK, Manuel Hassassian, following a speech Mr Hassassian had made in Parliament.

He said: "This [Hassassian's speech] 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'd said."

Mr Corbyn, who was a backbench MP at the time, went on to claim that the people concerned "clearly have 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 added: "They needed two lessons, which we could perhaps help them with."

Writing on Twitter, Ms Berger, said: "The video released today of the leader of @UKLabour making inexcusable comments - defended by a party spokesman - makes me as a proud British Jew feel unwelcome in my own party.

"I've lived in Britain all my life and I don't need any lessons in history/irony."

Other Labour MPs expressed solidarity with Ms Berger.

But shadow chancellor John McDonnell said Mr Corbyn's comments had been taken "out of context" in a way that was "not helpful" and likely to exacerbate tensions in the party.

Asked whether he would have used such language, he told BBC Radio 4's Today "in certain contexts, certain phrases are appropriate".

Mr Corbyn, he said, had devoted his political life to pursuing peace and reconciliation in the Middle East while Labour was committed to playing a "full role" in tackling anti-Semitism within its own ranks and in society.

"Let's recognise there is anti-Semitism in our society and let's have a real serious debate about the actions needed to tackle that anti-Semitism, wherever it is displayed," he said.

A Labour spokesman said Mr Corbyn had been "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".

But the Conservatives have urged the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards to investigate whether Mr Corbyn had brought the Commons into disrepute and breached the code of conduct for MPs.

Earlier this month, Mr Corbyn apologised over an event he hosted in 2010 where a Holocaust survivor compared Israel to Nazism.

After the Times published details of the event, the Labour leader said he had "on occasion appeared on platforms with people whose views I completely reject" and was sorry for the "concerns and anxiety that this has caused".

He also been criticised for his presence at a ceremony in Tunisia in 2014, which is said to have honoured the perpetrators of the 1972 Munich terror attack, during which 11 members of the Israeli Olympic team were taken hostage and killed.

Mr Corbyn said he had attended to take part in a ceremony honouring innocent victims of a 1985 Israeli air strike.

More on this story