Jeremy Corbyn was taken out of context when he said “Zionists” do not “understand English irony”, John McDonnell has said.
In the latest instalment of the anti-Semitism row which has dogged Labour all summer, Corbyn was revealed to have made the remark at an event in 2013.
Speaking at the Palestinian Return Centre, Corbyn referred to a speech made by Manuel Hassassian, the Palestinian envoy to the UK. He described how the envoy had made a “powerful and passionate speech” about the history of Palestine but that he had been “berated” by “Zionists” for what he had said.
In the video, Corbyn continues: “They clearly have two problems: one is they don’t want to study history and secondly having lived in this country for a very long time, probably all their lives, they don’t understand English irony either. Manuel does understand English irony and he uses it very, very effectively.”
Labour MP Luciana Berger said Corbyn’s newly surfaced comments were “inexcusable” and made her feel “unwelcome” in the her own party.
But McDonnell said “whatever Jeremy has said throughout the years has always been about how to secure peace, particularly in the Middle East”.
He told BBC Radio 4′s Today programme: “I think this has all been taken out of context.”
“To take expressions out fo context in that way are not helping,” the shadow chancellor added. “In certain context, certain phrases are appropriate, to take them out of context is unacceptable.”
He added: “Let’s recognise there is anti-Semitism in society. Let’s have a real serious debate about the actions needed to tackle anti-Semitism wherever it’s displayed.”