NEWS
25/03/2018 18:10 BST | Updated 26/03/2018 08:47 BST

Jeremy Corbyn 'Sincerely Sorry' For Anti-Semitism 'Pockets' In Labour As Mural Row Escalates

Jewish leaders are planning a protest at parliament.

PA Wire/PA Images
Jeremy Corbyn questioned why an anti-semitic mural was to be removed

Jeremy Corbyn has pledged to root out “pockets of anti-semitism” within Labour, as Jewish leaders plan a demonstration outside parliament over his apparent defence of an anti-semitic mural.

The Labour leader said he was “sincerely sorry for the pain which has been caused” and recognised “anti-semitism has occurred in pockets” within the Labour Party.

He said this as he became embroiled in a row over a 2012 Facebook comment, in which he questioned why the mural was to be removed.

His pledge on Sunday came hours after the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Jewish Leadership Council called for a protest outside parliament, saying “enough is enough”.

They plan to protest on 5.30pm on Monday and deliver a letter to the Parliamentary Labour Party’s weekly meeting, which starts half an hour later.

“We’ve had enough of hearing Jeremy Corbyn ‘opposes anti-semitism’, whilst the mainstream majority of British Jews, and their concerns, are ignored by him and those he leads,” the letter says.

“He issues empty statements about opposing anti-Semitism, but does nothing to understand or address it. We conclude he cannot seriously contemplate antisemitism because he is so ideologically fixed within a far left worldview that is instinctively hostile to mainstream Jewish communities.

“He has sided again and again with anti-Semites rather than Jews. At best, this derived from the far left’s obsessive hatred of Zionism, Zionists and Israel. At worst, it suggests a conspiratorial worldview in which mainstream Jewish communities are believed to be a hostile entity, a class enemy.”

The mural at the centre of the row depicted a group of Jewish men playing Monopoly on the backs of a group of emaciated people.

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”.

Jewish Labour MP Luciana Berger highlighted it on Friday. She and other Labour MPs tore into Corbyn over his response, in which he expressed “regret” at not inspecting the image more closely.

“Day in day out we the Jewish community face increasing anti-semitism. Enough is enough,” The Jewish Leadership Council wrote on its Facebook page.

“The leadership of the Jewish community will be delivering a letter to the Parliamentary Labour Party in advance of its meeting at 6pm.

“We call on members of our community and all those who oppose anti-semitism to join us in Parliament Square at 5:30pm to show solidarity.”

Labour MP Wes Streeting said: “We should be ashamed it’s come to this.”

Fellow Labour MP Ian Austin said he would join the protest.

Corbyn said he would meet with “representatives of the Jewish community in the coming days.

“Labour is an anti-racist party and I utterly condemn anti-semitism, which is why as Leader of the Labour Party I want to be clear that I will not tolerate any form of anti-semitism that exists in and around our movement,” he said.

“We must stamp this out from our party and movement.”

He added: “I know that to do so, we must demonstrate our total commitment to excising pockets of anti-semitism that exist in and around our party.

“I will be meeting representatives from the Jewish community over the coming days, weeks and months to rebuild that confidence in Labour.”

Karen Pollock, chief executive of the Holocaust Education Trust, told BBC Radio 4’s Westminster Hour that the apology was important but did not mention the mural row.

She said: “When there were examples of Labour Party members saying Jews kill and kidnap their way around the world, or referring to the Holocaust Educational Trust as the Holocaust indoctrination programme, or Zionist fairy-tales, was that not bad enough?

“Was that not enough to make the leader of the Labour Party say it’s disgusting and this has to stop? Because I think it should have been ringing alarm bells from the very beginning.

“I say this with emotion because I spend time with Holocaust survivors and I spend time with Jewish people who are concerned about this sort of rhetoric.

“Our leaders shouldn’t have to be put into a corner to say sorry and to say that it has to stop.”

She told the programme: “I’m glad that something has come out saying this is unacceptable. But I wonder, and it’s a personal view, whether this might be too late.”

Earlier on Sunday, Shadow Brexit Secretary Sir Keir Starmer said Labour had to show its “zero tolerance” approach to anti-semitism was more than just words.

He told ITV’s Peston on Sunday: “It is grotesque and disgusting and should have been taken down. It’s anti-semitic and we need to be absolutely clear about that...

“The most important thing here is that the Labour Party keeps on saying that anti-semitism has no place in our party, in our communities, or in our society, and we’ve got to have zero tolerance, and zero tolerance has got to be more than two words, it’s got to dictate everything the Labour Party does in relation to anti-semitism.”

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.