Jeremy Corbyn has said the problem of anti-Semitism in Labour was “dramatically overstated” by his political opponents – but accepted that anti-Jewish racism exists in the party’s ranks and should have been tackled faster.
His comments came after the human rights watchdog concluded the party broke equality law in its handling of anti-Semitism.
The damning report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission published on Thursday found the party was responsible for unlawful acts of harassment and discrimination.
The Jewish Labour Movement has said blame for the “sordid, disgraceful chapter” in the party’s history “lies firmly with those who held positions of leadership”.
But defending his actions, Corbyn said he had been “always determined to eliminate all forms of racism and root out the cancer of anti-Semitism”.
And the former Labour leader said he did not accept all of the EHRC’s findings.
“Anyone claiming there is no anti-Semitism in the Labour Party is wrong. Of course there is, as there is throughout society, and sometimes it is voiced by people who think of themselves as on the left,” Corbyn said in a statement.
“Jewish members of our party and the wider community were right to expect us to deal with it, and I regret that it took longer to deliver that change than it should.
“One anti-Semite is one too many, but the scale of the problem was also dramatically overstated for political reasons by our opponents inside and outside the party, as well as by much of the media.”
Corbyn added: “That combination hurt Jewish people and must never be repeated.
“My sincere hope is that relations with Jewish communities can be rebuilt and those fears overcome.
“While I do not accept all of its findings, I trust its recommendations will be swiftly implemented to help move on from this period.”
But the EHRC investigation found evidence of “political interference” by Corbyn’s office in the complaints process.
The watchdog’s interim chair, Caroline Waters, said there had been “inexcusable” failures which “appeared to be a result of a lack of willingness to tackle anti-Semitism rather than an inability to do so”.
The party has been found responsible for three breaches of the Equality Act (2010) relating to: political interference in complaints, failure to provide adequate training to those handling anti-Semitism cases, and harassment.
The EHRC found evidence of political interference in the complaints process, with 23 instances of inappropriate involvement by the Leader of the Opposition’s Office (LOTO) and others in the 70 files the watchdog looked at.