Last week Labour’s own inquiry into anti-Semitism in the party descended into chaos after Jeremy Corbyn managed to spark a new anti-Semitism row at the press conference. Discussing the findings of Shami Chakrabarti’s report, Corbyn appeared to compare Israel to Isis.
So, Corbyn faced a tough ride today as he appeared before the Home Affairs select committee on anti-Semitism. The committee — chaired by Keith Vaz — began by asking Corbyn to clarify his comments on Israel:
KV: Would you like to take this opportunity to clear this up? That you didn’t mean to compare a democratically elected government — no matter that it holds a different view to yours — with the criminals who run Daesh/Isil?
JC: At no stage did I make that comparison, and I’m disappointed that that comparison was made by the Chief Rabbi or anyone else. It would have been better if I’d said Islamic countries rather than Islamic states.
Despite Corbyn specifically referring to ‘self-styled Islamic states or organisations’ in his comments last week, the Labour leader was keen to push the idea that the blame laid with those who had misinterpreted his comments. This was a recurring theme of the session, as Corbyn went on to hit out at the media — once again — for proving unhelpful in their reporting of anti-Semitic incidents.
While Corbyn did concede that he regretted describing Hezbollah and Hamas as his friends, he gave less ground when it came to other acquaintances. Corbyn declared that Jackie Walker — the Momentum activist who declared Jews to be the ‘chief financiers of the slave trade’ — still had a ‘positive contribution’ to make to Labour. Meanwhile when Nusrat Ghani asked whether it was wise to promote Paul Flynn — who has criticised the Israeli ambassador to Britain for having ‘Jewish loyalty’ — to Shadow Welsh Secretary, Corbyn offered a passionate defence of his comrade. ‘Paul Flynn is in no way anti-Semitic,’ he replied. ‘I do not accept that he is any way a racist, he is a good man’.
However, it was one of Corbyn’s fellow MPs who offered the most hostile line of questioning. Now out of the Shadow Cabinet, Chuka Umunna has begun to make a habit out of using the Home Affairs Select Committee to grandstand about his party’s woes. After trying to ask about anti-Semitism in Momentum — the grassroots group — Umunna launched into a speech about not being a ‘disgruntled careerist Blairite’:
‘I should say chair, that what I am doing is drawing a direct correlation and line of causation between some of the acts of anti-Semitism we have seen in the Labour party and the activities of Momentum, which I accept there are good people in, there are also people who do not have the best interest of the party.
Can I just ask, for the record, my final question. I should say, one of the things I have found the most insulting about this issue of anti-Semitism in our party is the suggestion that I or any other member of Parliament has raised this issue because we are somehow disgruntled careerist Blairites.
My family have been victims of prejudice and hatred. My father was beaten up by the police when i was a child. The reason that I raise the issues that I raise today have absolutely nothing to do with Tony Blair — who ceased being the leader of the Labour party almost ten years ago, has nothing to do my career — in case people hadn’t noticed I am not in the Shadow Cabinet. It has everything to do with upholding the values in our party and I would appreciate it if you could send a very clear message that every MP who raises these issues should be afforded respect and the benefit of doubt that what drives us is…’
After Vaz cut Umunna off before he could finish, Corbyn pointed Umunna in the direction of Momentum leader Jon Lansman — claiming that he rejects all racism. While this is likely to do little to appease the Labour MP’s concerns, Umunna will no doubt still be happy with his own performance today. It’s just one of a number of efforts of late by the right of the party to put as much distance as they can between themselves and the beleaguered Labour leader.
Subscribe to The Spectator today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Get more Spectator for less – just £12 for 12 issues.