Labour leadership frontrunner Jeremy Corbyn has hit back at “disgusting” claims that he is anti-Semitic and denied he has links with a controversial Lebanese activist.
The left-winger’s campaign to take the party’s job has been surrounded in controversy over his dealings with extremists and suggestions that some of his supporters are peddling abuse against Jews on social media.
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A furious Mr Corbyn insisted he had spent his life fighting all forms of racism and said suggestions he was anti-Semitic were “beyond appalling”.
During a call-in with listeners on BBC Radio 4’s World At One programme, he said: “The idea that I’m some kind of racist or anti-Semitic person is beyond appalling, disgusting and deeply offensive.
“I have spent my life opposing racism. Until my dying day I will be opposed to racism in any form.”
— The World at One (@BBCWorldatOne) August 19, 2015
Pressed to explain why he had called Palestinian militant group Hamas “friends” during a meeting in Parliament, Mr Corbyn insisted he had been trying to start a dialogue to help bring about peace in the Middle East.
He said: “I was in a meeting in the House of Commons for a very serious discussion about the opportunities for peace in the Middle East and I said to everyone in the room ‘welcome to all our friends here, let’s have a discussion’.
“I think the remark has been taken quite seriously out of context by a lot of people.”
He added: “I used it as a diplomatic language in a meeting.”
Photographs have emerged that appear to show Mr Corbyn with Lebanese extremist Dyab Abou Jahjah, who is reported to have told a Flemish magazine in 2004 that he considered “every dead American, British and Dutch soldier a victory”.
But the Islington North MP denied knowing the controversial figure.
Asked if he had met Abou Jahjah, Mr Corbyn replied: “No. I saw the name this morning and I asked somebody ‘who is he?'”
He added: “I’m sorry, I don’t know who this person is.”
In what appeared to be a post by the radical, Mr Abou Jahjah said he had “briefly met and collaborated with Jeremy Corbyn” and shared some values with him but that the MP had never been his “cheerleader”.
They spoke alongside each other at an anti-war rally and a debate in a room within Parliament in 2009, shortly after which the radical was blocked from re-entering the UK by then Labour home secretary Jacqui Smith.
“Corbyn’s openness to dialogue is what made the visit possible,” he wrote, saying the latest controversy made him more determined to be allowed back into the country.
He rejected suggestions he was guilty of “rejoicing” over the deaths of British soldiers but insisted that “every soldier taking part in an illegal occupation is a legitimate target for resistance”.
He also denied being anti-Semitic – insisting he opposed only Zionism and the policies of the Israeli state.
“I am like Mr Corbyn a socialist, and we do share similar values. This does not mean that I agree with him on everything and I am sure that he also disagrees with me on some things,” he wrote.
“He was not my cheerleader then and I am not his cheerleader now, serious people do not reason in these terms.
“The subliminal ego of British conservatism is a sewer that stinks to centuries of colonial theft, oppression, murder and lies. And I am catching a tiny bit of that stench right now.
“It makes me more determined to revisit the UK, to speak to people there, and to struggle together for a better future in Europe and beyond.”