Jeremy Corbyn has insisted he doesn’t want the support of anyone directing abuse at his MPs over their attendance at the community’s rally against anti-Semitism – but has provoked anger by describing the small band of counter-demonstrators as “good people”.

In his first interview with the Jewish media since becoming Labour leader, Jewish News pressed him on his long record of associating with those with anti-Semitic views and the unprecedented criticism levelled at his approach to anti-Semitism by community leaders this week.

Berger, the MP for Liverpool Wavertree, last week highlighted how Corbyn questioned the removal of a mural with anti-Semitic imagery in 2012, and then joined dozens of her fellow MPs at a rally organised by the Board of Deputies and Jewish Leadership Council on Monday. She has since been bombarded with abuse alleging a Tory plot and accusing her of smears.

“I support her,” he said, “None of it can be done in our name or my name. I don’t want anybody who is abusing anybody.” He also insisted David Lammy should not face deselection for supporting the rally, as has been urged by some on social media.

But, in comments that will cause considerable concern in the mainstream community, he described Jewish Voice for Labour – who were involved in a small counter demo against the main communal event – as “nice people”. They put out a statement attributing the event to the local elections rather than the fight against anti-Semitism. Key members were also shown by blogger David Collier to be part of the hate-filled Palestine Live Facebook group.

But Corbyn said: “JVL are committed to fighting anti-Semitism and making sure there is a Jewish voice in the party. We already have the Jewish Labour Movement. JVL was established last year and I think it is good that we have organisations within the party that are giving that voice to people. I’m not a member of that or JLM but they’re good people, they are in the party because they love and believe in it.”

Jeremy Corbyn speaking exclusively to Jewish News
Photo credit: Marc Morris

He revealed he had instructed incoming secretary general Jenni Formby  to make the full implementation of the Chakrabarti report her first priority and was looking at how to speed up the disciplinary process.. One hundred and fifty cases of the 300 referrals for anti-Semitism since 2015 had seen expulsions or resignations, he said, with 70 still to be dealt with. He also wrote to all members last night acknowledging “anger” in the community and highlighting forms of new anti-Semitism linked to Israel.

He also repeatedly refused to be drawn on the future of suspended Ken Livingstone, saying he “doesn’t decide on the future of cases”. While he earlier this week conceded that there were more than just a “few bad apples” in the party, he failed to take up repeated chances to directly condemn claims by close allies that anti-Semitism allegations are “smears”.

It wasn’t a smear to question him about past associations, Corbyn said, but repeatedly insisted he had a lifelong commitment to all forms of racism.  After Labour per Lord Mendelsohn said he was “part of the problem”, he brushed off questions about whether he holds some responsibility for current events.