Jeremy Corbyn has condemned Ken Livingstone’s controversial claims that Adolf Hitler initially backed Zionism.
The Labour leader has come under intense pressure following the remarks by the former London mayor, a close ally who was suspended from the party amid the furore caused by his claim.
Appearing before a House of Commons Home Affairs Committee inquiry into anti-Semitism, Mr Corbyn was asked whether he agreed with Mr Livingstone that the anger over his comments had been whipped up by “embittered Blairites”.
The Labour leader responded: “No I think we have to condemn the way he made the remarks and the remarks themselves and the equation of Hitler and Zionism at the same time.”
Mr Corbyn said Mr Livingstone’s remarks were “wholly unacceptable and totally wrong”. He was suspended from the party within hours and his case was being investigated, he said.
The Labour leader also expressed regret at his choice of words at a press conference launching a Labour report into anti-Semitism which led to claims he was drawing a parallel between Israel and the Islamic State terror group.
Mr Corbyn told the event that Jews were “no more responsible for the actions of Israel” than Muslims were for the “various self-styled Islamic states or organisations”.
The Labour leader said: “It would have been better, with hindsight – and many things are much better with hindsight, as every one of us around this table is well aware – if I had said Islamic countries rather than states.”
At the press conference last week, Jewish Labour MP Ruth Smeeth walked out after an activist accused her of “working hand in glove” with The Daily Telegraph.
Mr Corbyn said he “was not aware she had left at that stage” and added that the comments from Marc Wadsworth which prompted her walkout were “inappropriate and wrong”.
The Labour leader also expressed regret about previously calling Hezbollah and Hamas as his “friends”.
“It was inclusive language I used which, with hindsight, I would rather not have used,” he said. “I regret using those words. I have done so on many occasions.”
Mr Corbyn told the committee he was “alarmed” at reports of anti-Semitic comments made by Labour members since his election as leader in 2015. He said that “appropriate action” had been taken by the party’s compliance unit and fewer than 20 activists had been suspended while their cases were investigated.
Asked if he had ever witnessed anti-Semitism during his time in the party, Mr Corbyn said: “A long time ago, there were sometimes anti-Semitic remarks made. I am talking about when I first joined the party. Over the past years? No. And in my own constituency never, under any circumstances.”
Mr Corbyn said he was “content” at the reinstatement as a Labour member of the vice-chair of the left-wing Momentum pressure group, Jackie Walker, who was suspended earlier this year after saying Jews were the “chief financiers of the slave trade”.
“Jackie Walker is a woman of black Jamaican heritage and European Jewish heritage,” he said. “I think she is somebody that does have a deep understanding of issues of racism that have affected her and her family in her life.”
He said he was not present at the compliance meeting at which Ms Walker explained her comments and did not know what she said, but added: “I am content that she has now been reinstated in the party and that she will now make a positive contribution.”
The committee chairman, Labour MP Keith Vaz, asked Mr Corbyn if he accepted that Jewish groups were “fearful” that he was “fostering a period in the party where anti-Semitism exists”.
Mr Corbyn said: “I think that is deeply unfair and deeply wrong. It’s absolutely the last thing I would want to do.”