The Labour leader admitted “regret” after he made a “general comment” on Facebook in 2012 about a piece of street art depicting caricatures of Jewish men playing Monopoly, saying he should have “looked more closely at the image”.
Prominent Labour backbencher Yvette Cooper has said she was “really troubled” and “strongly agreed” with Labour and co-operative MP Luciana Berger, head of Jewish Labour, who 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”.
Tory MP Sajid David went one step further, challenging Corbyn to a debate on anti-Semitism in Parliament.
The artist of the piece had written on Facebook: “Tomorrow they want to buff my mural. Freedom of expression. London calling. Public art.”
Corbyn commented on the post and appeared to condemn the removal of the painting.
The then 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.”
And a reporter for the Jewish Chronicle claims Corbyn’s office knew of the concerns over the mural back in 2015.
The Jewish Labour Movement said: “Anti-Semitic art is anti-Semitism.
“History is littered with imagery that has reaffirmed the worst kinds of racial stereotypes and led to the worst kinds of racial discrimination.
“It cannot be defended under any circumstances. Not by anyone and least of all the leader of the Labour Party.”
The mural, in east London, was painted by Mear One – whose real name is Kalen Ockerman – and depicted a group of businessmen playing a Monopoly-style game on a board balanced on the backs of people.
The artist denied being anti-Semitic, saying the mural is about “class and privilege” and contains a group of bankers “made up of Jewish and white Anglos”.