Jeremy Corbyn defends ‘Zionists and English irony’ comments

Posted On: 
25th August 2018

Jeremy Corbyn has defended comments he made in 2013 claiming a group of Zionists had “no sense of irony” despite “having lived in this country for a very long time”. 

Jeremy-Corbyn The Labour leader said he was now 'more careful' with his words
Credit: 
PA Images

The Labour leader sought to clarify remarks he made at a conference in 2013, after leaked video footage of the event sparked calls for an apology.

In a statement issued on Friday night, he said he used the term “Zionist” in its “accurate political sense and not as a euphemism for Jewish people”.

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He added: “I am now more careful with how I might use the term ‘Zionist’ because a once self-identifying political term has been increasingly hijacked by anti-Semites as code for Jews.”

In the clip, unearthed by the Daily Mail, Mr Corbyn tells a London conference that British Zionists "clearly have two problems”.

"One is they don't want to study history, and secondly, having lived in this country for a very long time, probably all their lives, they don't understand English irony either," he went on.

And he said: "They needed two lessons, which we could perhaps help them with."

The comments sparked an angry backlash from some Labour MPs.

Luciana Berger, who is Jewish, branded the remarks “inexcusable”  and said they had made her, as “a proud British Jew feel unwelcome in my own party”.

She added: “I’ve lived in Britain all my life and I don’t need any lessons in history/irony.”

Fellow backbencher David Lammy added: "The 'English irony' comments are wrong and risk offending the 90% of British Jews who identify as Zionists, not only those referred to at the start of this speech. That’s why I condemn this type of insidious language, wherever it comes from."

But Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, a key ally of the Labour leader, leapt to his defence, saying Mr Corbyn’s remarks had been taken “out of context”

“Whatever Jeremy has said throughout the years has always been about how to secure peace, particularly within the Middle East and also peace with justice for all concerned - both members of the Jewish community and also members of the Palestinian community,” Mr McDonnell said.

“In that context Jeremy has devoted his life, so I think this would take expressions out of context in that way are not helping.”

Earlier this month the Labour leader was forced to apologise over an event he hosted in 2010 at which a participant compared Israeli government policy to Nazism. He has also faced criticism over his attendance at a 2014 conference in Tunisia amid accusations - denied by Labour - that a wreath was laid at the graves of figures linked to the 1972 massacre of Israeli athletes in Munich.

The party has since lodged a string of complaints with press regulator IPSO over coverage of that 2014 ceremony.