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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 15 November 2018

Labour apology for Hamas gaffe fails to quell row

Jeremy Corbyn faces growing anger over antisemitism stance as past appearances stoke controversy

Britain's opposition Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn.. Toby Melville / Reuters
Britain's opposition Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn.. Toby Melville / Reuters

Comments by British opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn outlining his support for “the brothers” while appearing on Iran’s Press TV are part of an intensifying row over the Labour leader’s place at the head of a mainstream political party.

The 2012 TV appearance saw Mr Corbyn praise the Hamas operative Abdul Aziz Umar, who had just been released in a prisoner swap, and reveal he had held meeting with the movement in Qatar. “Well, you have to ask the question why they’re in prison in the first place and since the releases that took place after the hunger strike I met many of the brothers including the brother who has been speaking here when they came out of prison when I was in Doha earlier this year, and you just realise that this mass imprisonment of Palestinians is actually part of a much bigger political game,” he observed.

Amid a bitter row over Mr Corbyn’s failure to embrace safeguards against anti-semitism, the veteran leftist was also exposed for his role hosting a 2010 event in the House of Commons at which he compared the siege of Gaza to the Nazi encirclement of Stalingrad. The MP was said by one attendee to have “ordered out” dissenters.

A statement from Mr Corbyn expressed regret at his past associations. "In the past, in pursuit of justice for the Palestinian people and peace in Israel/Palestine, I have on occasion appeared on platforms with people whose views I completely reject. I apologise for the concerns and anxiety that this has caused."

However Mr Corbyn’s closest political ally, John McDonnell, who is the party’s treasury spokesman, said the issue had shaken Labour to “the core”. He said the leadership must acknowledge the divisions its stance was causing.

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The row turns on a new party code of conduct that drops four of examples in the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance's (IHRA) definition of anti-semitic activity. One of these is comparing contemporary Israeli policies to those of the Nazis.

Activists now say Mr Corbyn’ Stalingrad comments would fail the test set in the IHRA. “On Holocaust Memorial Day, when people from all backgrounds, parties and faiths came together to remember the unique evil of the Holocaust, Corbyn chose to chair an event undermining its very purpose – deliberately distorting of the truth of history’s greatest crime,” said Karen Pollock of the Holocaust Educational Trust.

Commentators said the row had exposed deep flaws in the Mr Corbyn as a leader. “In his handling of the anti-Semitism furore Corbyn has revealed himself to be captious, resentful, weak, easily-fazed, constrained by ideology, indifferent to evidence, slow to spot political peril, unmoved by anxieties that he regards as inconsistent with his political worldview, sectarian rather than statesmanlike, incapable of focus, relaxed about double standards, and spectacularly ill-suited to crisis management,” wrote Matthew D’Ancona in the Evening Standard.