UK Labour's Corbyn defends stance against racism

UK Labour's Corbyn defends stance against racism
4 min read
20 August, 2015
Analysis: The frontrunner in Labour's leadership race has been forced to defend once sharing a stage with a controversial Lebanese-born activist several years ago.
Corbyn rejected claims he was anti-Semitic as "deeply offensive" [Getty]

Jeremy Corbyn has been forced to defend his history of anti-war activism after being attacked for appearing on the same panel as an "anti-Semitic" activist six years ago.

The surprise frontrunner in the UK Labour leadership race appeared on stage at a 2009 parliamentary meeting with a controversial Lebanese-born activist banned from the UK.

"As an MP I have met thousands of people over the years," said Corbyn. "Because I meet them, it does not mean I share their views or endorse their views."

He rejected as "disgusting" and "deeply offensive" claims he was anti-Semitic.

As an MP I have met thousands of people over the years... it does not mean I share their views or endorse their views.
- Jeremy Corbyn

Corbyn initially denied he knew who Diab Abou Jahjah was, but later released a statement saying that "My staff have researched this and tell me that I did meet this man in 2009, but I have no recollection of him."

Jahjah, who currently lives in Belgium, is a radical activist who has spoken out in favour of liberation movements and "a one-state solution in Palestine in the line of the South African dismantling of the apartheid state". He denies he is anti-Semitic.

Guardian commentator Owen Jones wrote that Corbyn's opponents had been trawling the many meetings he has had in his 32 years as an MP looking for "unsavoury individuals" - so headlines will be dominated by his denials of anti-Semitism or links to anti-Semites.

Attacked by the Jewish Chronicle

Last week, Corbyn was accused by The Jewish Chronicle of having links with "Holocaust deniers, terrorists and some outright anti-Semites".

The MP hit back at the claim, saying: "Until my dying day, I will be opposed to racism in any form."

In recent days, Corbyn has also been forced to defend his referring to members of the Palestinian group Hamas and the Lebanese group Hizballah as "friends" in an interview with Channel 4's Krishnan Guru-Murthy.

"Does it mean I agree with Hamas and what it does? No. Does it mean I agree with Hizballah and what they do? No," he responded.

"What it means is that I think to bring about a peace process, you have to talk to people with whom you may profoundly disagree."

More: Hamas-Hizballah 'association' can't stop Corbyn surge - read Tom Charles' commentary here

The dark horse in the leadership race

Corbyn has taken a surprise lead in the polls for the Labour leadership race, held after former leader Ed Milliband resigned in the aftermath of his party's defeat in the 7 May election.

The election is the first to be held under the "one member, one vote" system, which has allowed Corbyn to seize the lead from the other candidates in the face of strong opposition from most of the Labour Party's sitting MPs - who have been strongly critical of his policies.

The popularity of Corbyn's anti-austerity, anti-war and left-wing stances has come as a shock to the party's leadership.

Membership in the party has surged by 411,000 since the country's general election a few months ago, having fallen by around 200,000 during the prime ministership of Tony Blair, according to Private Eye.

Polling in the leadership race closes on 10 September, but many new supporters have been surprised to find themselves ineligible to vote, as party workers scour lists of new sign-ups to prevent "entryism" - that is, supporters of other parties signing up fraudulently to corrupt the process.

The process appears to have mainly targeted would-be Corbyn voters.

The #LabourPurge hashtag has been trending on Thursday, as many new left-wing supporters - particularly those that had been vocally disaffected by the party's centrist agenda in recent years, with evidence as flimsy as re-tweeting another party's views - were emailed by officials telling them they were no longer entitled to vote for a new leader, despite having paid £3 to sign up.

The seemingly "McCarthyite" exorcism of potential Corbyn supporters has been labelled "Jeremymandering" by Britain's leftist twitterati.

The three other candidates in the Labour leadership race have all sought to distance themselves from the 2014 parliamentary vote to unilaterally recognise the state of Israel.

Two of the three stressed their pro-Israel credentials, one promising to fight the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, the other promising Israel would be the first foreign country he visited.

Corbyn has instead called for an arms embargo against Israel.