Claims that the Labour Party has a problem with anti-Semitism are “complete rubbish”, according to Ken Livingstone.

The former London mayor told the Ham and High that he has “never heard anyone in the party say something anti-Semitic in nearly 50 years and it is not happening on a grassroots level”.

He utilised the same argument when dismissing the anti-Semitism controversy at Oxford University Labour Club in February.

Livingstone, who was suspended from office in 2006 after comparing a Jewish journalist to a concentration camp guard, added: “Anyone who criticises the Israeli government is getting smeared as being anti-Semitic.”

The divisive left-winger was responding to comments made by Labour’s shadow commons leader Chris Bryant, who said that anti-semitism “threatens the soul” of the party.

Despite Livingstone’s claims, the party’s National Executive Committee has suspended and expelled several members for anti-Semitic comments on social media.

Among them is Aysegul Gurbuz, a councillor for Luton’s High Town ward who tweeted that Hitler was “the greatest man in history”. She has been suspended pending an investigation.

Vicki Kirby, the party’s former parliamentary candidate for Woking, was readmitted as a member despite posting a series of “utterly vile” tweets in which she called Hitler “the Zionist god” and suggested that ISIS ought to attack Israel.

And last month Trotskyist Gerry Downing had his membership of the party revoked for the second time, after using a BBC TV appearance to lambast “billionaire Zionist politicians” and “Israel’s heinous crimes”.

It has since emerged that a rule chance could see Labour members found guilty of anti-Semitism permanently excluded from the party.

The Jewish Labour Movement has complained that there are “no clear provisions” to enable automatic exclusions for any form of racism – and that “supporting another party, in the eyes of the rulebook, is a much worse offence than racism”.