John McDonnell attacked for 'deeply offensive' comparison of Julian Assange to falsely persecuted Jewish soldier
John McDonnell has been attacked for “deeply offensive” comments by comparing Julian Assange to a falsely persecuted Jewish soldier.
After visiting the imprisoned Wikileaks founder at Belmarsh, Labour’s shadow Chancellor said his planned extradition was “the Dreyfus case of our age”.
This refers to Alfred Dreyfus, a French army officer who was tried and convicted in 1895 on false charges of treason, with many believing he was court martialled just because he was Jewish.
He was later exonerated thanks to a long campaign, which included the publication of J'Accuse by the novelist Emile Zola, criticising his prosecution.
Mr McDonnell’s comparison drew condemnation, with Karen Pollock, chief executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust tweeting: “Dreyfus was a French artillery officer falsely accused of treason because he was Jewish.
“Go figure how or why John McDonnell could make such an inappropriate comparison with the Assange case.
“Outrageous, ridiculous and so deeply offensive.”
Mike Katz, national chair of the Jewish Labour Movement, posted: “What an absolutely ridiculous and offensive thing to say.
“Though I can see how you could confuse Dreyfus, a loyal soldier wrongly accused of treason because he was a Jew, with an entitled bloke who hid in a foreign embassy to evade extradition on a rape allegation.
“If you view *everything* through an anti-American lens, obviously.”
Euan Philipps, spokesperson for Labour Against Antisemitism said: “It is deeply offensive of John McDonnell to compare Julian Assange to Alfred Dreyfus, and Mr Assange’s imprisonment to the Dreyfus Affair – a case that directly inspired a resurgence in the Zionist movement.”
He added: “That Mr McDonnell would make such a comment in the middle of an investigation into institutional racism only highlights the scale of the antisemitism crisis within the Labour Party.”
And the Jewish charity the Community Security Trust said: “Disgraceful false equivalence to one of the key learning moments of modern Jewish history.”
Mr McDonnell, speaking outside the maximum-security facility on Thursday, said Assange should not be sent to the US because it would "damage the democratic standing" of the UK.
He is wanted by American authorities for a host of charges including conspiring to commit computer intrusion over the publication of diplomatic cables, as well as working with former US army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to leak hundreds of thousands of classified documents.
If found guilty the 48-year-old Australian could face up to 175 years in jail.
After a two-hour visit with Assange, who is awaiting the start of his extradition hearing next week, Mr McDonnell said: "I think this is one of the most important and significant political trials of this generation, in fact longer.
"I think it's the Dreyfus case of our age.
"The way in which a person is being persecuted for political reasons, for simply exposing the truth for what went on in relation to recent wars."
The Labour frontbencher added: "We're hoping that in court he is able to defeat the extradition bid. We don't believe that extradition should be used for political purposes."