John McDonnell defends comparison of Julian Assange to falsely persecuted Jewish soldier
John McDonnell has defended his decision to compare the Julian Assange's situation to a Jewish soldier falsely accused of spying.
The Shadow Chancellor sparked anger after saying the Wikileaks founder's legal situation was "the Dreyfus case of our age".
That was a reference 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 made his comments after visiting Mr Assange in Belmarsh Prison, where he is being held on remand while the US tries to have him extradited over the publication of hundreds of thousands of confidential American military communications in 2010.
He said: "I think this is one of the most important and significant political trials of this generation. In fact, longer. I think it is the Dreyfus case of our age, the way in which a person is being persecuted for political reasons for simply exposing the truth of what went on in relation to recent wars."
But his comments were condemned by Jewish groups.
Karen Pollock, chief executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust, tweeted: “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, said: "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."
But Mr McDonnell defended his comments, insisting he was right to compare the two cases.
Responding to one of his critics on Twitter, he said: "It was quite clear what I meant. Just like the Dreyfus case, the legal action against Julian Assange is a major political trial in which the establishment is out to victimise an innocent. On that basis, of course it’s right to assert than it’s a parallel."