Jeremy Corbyn has rejected claims that he endorsed anti-semitic remarks in an academic textbook on colonialism, pointing out the language used was “of its time”.
The Labour leader was plunged into a fresh row over the issue after it emerged that he had praised the study by JA Hobson as “a great tome”.
The book, Imperialism: A Study, included several anti-semitic tropes about Jewish control of media and finance.
It included a line that claimed Europe was controlled “by men of a single and peculiar race, who have behind them many centuries of financial experience”.
The Jewish Labour Movement said the issue was a resignation matter for Corbyn, who wrote a foreword to a new edition of the textbook when he was a backbencher in 2011.
But on Wednesday, Corbyn’s spokesman hit back and insisted that he had never intended to endorse any of the racist language in the book – and pointed out there was “Victorian” phrasing about black and Asian people too.
“There is language which most people would regard as repugnant and racist, not just in relation to Jewish people and the financial interest but about Africans and Asians across the board,” the spokesman said.
“It’s not that he didn’t notice those things, it’s not that he couldn’t see that. It’s the fact that he wasn’t talking about that. He regarded it as a book of its time and its era and the language of that era.”
The spokesman insisted that Corbyn was instead praising the overall analysis of the study’s look at capitalism and colonialism.
“It is taught as a classic throughout our universities and has been widely quoted by politicians of quite a broad scope.
“But it was also clearly a text of its time and its era. It’s not just the anti-semitic references that are clearly offensive. There are also other racially offensive phraseology which is very much of the late Victorian era as well.”
He stressed that the Labour leader had written a brief foreword rather than a full introduction to the book and if he had he could have pointed to the racism.
“Jeremy’s foreword was talking about the broad ideas around imperialism and Hobson’s analysis and how they apply today. He wasn’t writing an introduction to the book so he doesn’t talk about either of those things. He’s talking about the broad scope of the ideas.”
In a statement, the Jewish Labour Movement said: “It’s no accident that he’s praised an author who peddled what we would recognise today as left anti-semitic tropes.
“Labour’s statement goes nowhere near enough explaining, let alone apologising. Any other Labour member would have been suspended after this. He should consider his position.”
But the leader’s spokesman said Corbyn had put “huge resources” into dealing with anti-Semitism in the party and had made clear in videos and statements his own position.
“In the case of this particular foreword to this book, he was talking about a much broader set of issues and didn’t engage with the detail of the language, whether it applied to anti-Semitism of other forms of racism.
“The JLM I think passed a resolution recently of no confidence in Jeremy and making a number of allegations around his position which we have quite clearly have said we regard as entirely false and unjustified.”
A JLM spokesperson described as “pathetic semantics” any distinction between a foreword and an introduction to the book. “You would expect anti-racists to call out an author’s racism nonetheless.”