The frontrunner in the Labour leadership campaign, Jeremy Corbyn has denied knowingly associating with Holocaust deniers, calling denial of the holocaust “vile and wrong.” However, he denied making misjudgements about the people he had associated with in the past, saying that, while racism is always wrong, the “need to talk to people is absolutely right.”
Corbyn is well known for his support for pro-Palestinian groups and causes, but while he was a mere backbench MP these were seen as idiosyncratic – a symptom of the left’s institutionalised anti-Israeli stance. As a possible Labour leader, however, they have come to the foreground.
On August 12th, the Jewish Chronicle published a front page article under the headline “The key questions Jeremy Corbyn must answer”, which set out a number of allegations of dealings with anti-Semites and holocaust deniers.
Corbyn was asked, amongst other questions: “Did you donate, as alleged by its founder, to Deir Yassin Remembered (DYR), a group that publishes open antisemitism, run by Holocaust denier Paul Eisen — an organisation so extreme that even the Palestine Solidarity Campaign refuses to associate with it?” and “Why did you describe Raead Salah, a man convicted of the blood libel, as an ‘honoured citizen’?”
The question regarding Eisen stemmed from a blog post that Eisen himself had written upon hearing that Corbyn was standing for the leadership. In it, he described Corbyn, his constituency MP as a “fine man”, saying: “I hate all politics and I hold the hopelessly compromised and Zionised Labour party in particular contempt. But if Jeremy Corbyn does stand for leader I’m going to join that party so I can give him my vote.”
Eisen recounts how, 15 years ago, as he was setting up a Deir Yassin Remembered, he “cycled over to see” Corbyn to ask for his support. “I’d hardly begun my feverishly-rehearsed pitch before his cheque book was on the table,” Eisen wrote. “From that day on, without fuss or bother, whether DYR was flavour-of-the month or the maggot-at-the-bottom-of-the-food-chain, he attended every single Deir Yassin commemoration.”
Having failed to answer any of the Jewish Chronicle’s questions, Corbyn was cornered by Channel 4’s Cathy Newman last night just before he addressed a leadership rally. She put to him his connections with Eisen, charges which Corbyn sought to play down, saying “I have no contact now whatsoever with Paul Eisen and Deir Yassin Remembered. I did attend a number of events concerning Deir Yassin Remembered some years ago, I think two or three of them.
“The only donation if I made any would have been in a collecting bucket going round the room.”
He then went on to stress that “Deir Yassin was a village that was destroyed on the establishment of Israel.”
When Newman put Eisen’s allegations regarding his chequebook to Corbyn, he replied: “I have no recollection of any chequebook on the table.
“Fifteen years ago [Eisen] was not a Holocaust denier. Had he been a Holocaust denier or stated he was, I would have had absolutely nothing to do with him. I was however moved by the plight of people who had lost their village in Deir Yassin.”
He continued: “Obviously Holocaust denial is vile and wrong. The Holocaust was the most vile part of our history. The Jewish people killed by the Nazi Holocaust were the people who suffered the most in the 20th century.”
As regards his meetings with Raead Salah when he visited the UK, Corbyn remarked that he was unaware of Salah’s conviction for blood libel, saying: “I did meet him under house arrest. We had quite a long conversation about multi-faith objectives; about the rise of Islamophobia and anti-Semitism, and I made my views very clear. He did not at any stage utter any anti-Semitic remarks to me whatsoever during that conversation.
“Had he been convicted at that time then I’m surprised the Israeli government allowed him to travel.”
Corbyn agreed that he “regretted” donating to Eisen’s fund, but vehemently denied “misjudgements” in his dealings with anti-Semites and holocaust deniers, saying “You’re putting a lot of words into my mouth about misjudgments. The point is that any form of racism is wrong in any situation is absolutely wrong. We’re all agreed on that. The need to talk to people is absolutely right if we’re to bring about a peace process.”
Stephen Pollard, editor of the Jewish Chronicle said: “I think there is a deep sense of foreboding in the Jewish community about some of the people that Jeremy Corbyn associates with, whether it’s a holocaust denier; whether it’s someone convicted of anti-Semitic incitement. I’m not accusing him of being an anti-Semite. What we want to know is answers to the question: why have you associated with some of these people?”