POLITICS
25/03/2018 11:31 BST | Updated 25/03/2018 11:47 BST

Jeremy Corbyn 'Does Not Have Anti-Semitic Bone In His Body,' Ally Says As Mural Row Engulfs Labour

Andy McDonald defends Corbyn after complaint to Labour NEC alleging leader brought party into disrepute.

Senior Labour figures have defended Jeremy Corbyn after he appeared to endorse a “horrible” anti-semitic mural. 

Shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald claimed Corbyn “does not have an anti-semitic bone in his body” while deputy leader Tom Watson said “very, very sorry that people feel hurt” over how the leader’s office handled the row.

Corbyn claims he was defending “freedom of speech” and did not closely examine the controversial mural - which he has since conceded was antisemitic - before making a supportive post to street artist Mear One on Facebook in 2012. 

The east London mural was painted over as Tower Hamlets Council had ruled it was anti-semitic, but Corbyn’s post asked “Why?” and told the artist he was “in good company”. 

A complaint has been made to Labour’s National Executive Committee saying that Corbyn has brought the party into disrepute. 

Watson branded the image a “horrible antisemitic mural that was rightly taken down”. 

Speaking on BBC One’s The Andrew Marr Show, he said: “That is why Jeremy has expressed deep regret and apologised for that and has actually said that it’s right that the mural was taken down.”

Mike Kemp via Getty Images
'Freedom for Humanity' a street art graffiti work by artist Mear One aka Kalen Ockerman on Hanbury Street near Brick Lane. Tower Hamlets ordered that the mural be removed as the characters depicted as bankers have faces that look Jewish, and is therefore antisemitic. When the artist posted that the mural's removal had been ordered Jeremy Corbyn asked 'Why?' 

He added: “I’m very, very sorry that people feel hurt by this and that’s why I think it’s right that Jeremy has expressed regret for it.

“He said that he didn’t see the mural, he was talking about free expression and I think now that he has seen the mural, he’s right to say that it was right not just to be removed but that he expresses deep regret for the offence caused by the mural.”

Labour MP Luciana Berger, head of Jewish Labour, said the response by the leader’s office was “wholly inadequate” and failed to understand “on any level the hurt and anguish felt about antisemitism”

Watson said: “I think it’s time we said that enough is enough on these antisemitic stories.”

He went on: “Nobody in the Labour Party should have the slightest hesitation in condemning this mural, it’s antisemitic, it’s horrible and I want Jewish members as well as every other member of the Labour Party to feel welcome in our party.

“I think it’s time we said that enough is enough on these antisemitic stories and we are taking measures to do that.”

Asked if he agreed with Labour MP Chris Williamson that there had been a “weaponising” of anitisemitism, Watson replied: “No, I don’t, I don’t agree with that at all. But what I do think is that we’ve got to work harder to stamp out antisemitism and that requires our internal procedures to be faster in the way they operate, and deeper.”

PA Wire/PA Images
Jeremy Corbyn has faced criticism from his MPs for defending the mural in a Facebook post. 

Watson said: “Let me say, it’s time we stamped out antisemitism and we’re doing so. We’ve increased our resources to investigate these individual cases, but we’re a member-led party, we need to make sure that we investigate these things thoroughly to make sure justice is done.”

Speaking on Sky News, meanwhile, McDonald said people were “misinterpreting” Corbyn’s character. 

He said: “Jeremy has made it abundantly clear that it is anti-semitic portrait or mural or whatever it is and it is quite right that it should be removed. 

“He didn’t look at it properly at the time and he has expressed regret about that. 

“But I would just say, Jeremy Corbyn hasn’t got an anti-semitic bone in his body. 

“His entire history is about campaigning for human rights, to oppose discrimination in whatever form it takes. 

“If you just look back at the Early Day Motions over his time in Parliament, he has been at the forefront of condemning terrorism, speaking out against attacks against Jewish communities across Europe, in Istanbul, in Paris and everywhere else. 

“I think this is to misinterpret the intentions of a really good and decent man who’s actually stood for these issues all of his life.”  

He said the Labour Party had attempted to tackle anti-semitism with a report by Shami Chakrabarti, who has since been made a Labour peer and the party’s shadow attorney general. 

McDonald said: “We’ve had a very frank and thorough look at the issues of anti-semitism and we have reaffirmed our abhorrence of that issue and all of its manifestations.” 

Wirral Labour MP Alison McGovern told the BBC’s Jon Pienaar that Labour had to take “practical steps to deal with [anti-semitism] wherever we find it”. 

Prominent Labour backbencher Yvette Cooper said on Saturday that she is “really troubled” by how Corbyn’s office handled the row. 

The chairwoman of the powerful Commons Home Affairs Select Committee said she “strongly agreed” wit Berger. 

Cooper tweeted: “Strongly agree with @LucianaBerger - am really troubled by the mural, the comments & the way this was handled today.”

Mear One had written on Facebook in 2012: “Tomorrow they want to buff my mural. Freedom of expression. London calling. Public art.”

Corbyn, then a backbench MP posted underneath: “Why? You are in good company. Rockerfeller (sic) destroyed Diego Viera’s (sic) mural because it includes a picture of Lenin.”

Speaking of the comment, Corbyn’s office issued a statement on Friday:

“In 2012 I made a general comment about the removal of public art on grounds of freedom of speech. My comment referred to the destruction of the mural ‘Man at the Crossroads’ by Diego Rivera on the Rockefeller Center.

“That is in no way comparable with the mural in the original post. I sincerely regret that I did not look more closely at the image I was commenting on, the contents of which are deeply disturbing and anti-Semitic. I wholeheartedly support its removal.

“I am opposed to the production of anti-Semitic material of any kind, and the defence of free speech cannot be used as a justification for the promotion of anti-Semitism in any form. That is a view I’ve always held.

“The Tower Hamlets mural I celebrate is the one which commemorates the mobilization of East London’s Jewish community in the anti-fascist demonstrations against Mosley’s Blackshirts in Cable Street in 1936.”