Labour MPs Diane Abott and Jeremy Corbyn

Labour MPs Diane Abott and Jeremy Corbyn

Controversy over Jeremy Corbyn’s links with anti-Semites amount to “smears” from a political class “frozen with fear”, Diane Abbott has said.

The prospective London mayoral candidate’s claims come as Mr Corbyn admitted he met with a pro-Palestine activist who said he considered every dead British soldier “a victory”.

Mr Corbyn had denied meeting Dyab Abou Jahjah – founder of a group which brought a lawsuit against former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon over the Sabra and Shatila massacre of 1982 – but has since said he did meet the Lebanese activist in 2009.

Mr Corbyn said: “My staff have researched this and tell me that I did meet this man in 2009 but I have no recollection of him.

Ms Abbott, who staged a less successful left-wing run for the Labour leadership in 2010, also said those drawing attention to the leadership favourite’s links with “less than savoury” figures were “plucking incidents out of a very long career”.

The Hackney North and Stoke Newington MP also claimed that “the life of a left-wing backbencher” often meant turning up to events without full knowledge of those who were going to be in attendance.

Denying that the Islington North MP was a “fellow traveller with anti-Semitism”, Mrs Abbott told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “The British political class is frozen with the fear at the idea Jeremy will actually win this leadership election – it’s by no means certain but the very notion of it terrifies people because the energy behind him has the power to disrupt and to change and transform politics.

“This is where these anti-Semitic smears come from.

“And the point is this – Jeremy has been an MP for 30 years. In those 30 years he has done thousands of meetings, rallies, memorial events. I mean, Jeremy is hyperactive, so for every one event another left MP will do, Jeremy will do three.

“Now, if over those 30 years he has been on a platform with somebody who now is clear is an anti-Semite and a holocaust denier – whatever it is – you know, over 30 years, given the often chaotic nature of liberation movements that will happen, that doesn’t make Jeremy a fellow traveller with anti-Semitism.

“We are looking at 30 years and we are plucking incidents out of a very long career. If you get involved with liberation movements there will be points at which you are involved in – you know… there will be people around who are less than savoury.”

In a question and answer session on BBC Radio 4 yesterday, Mr Corbyn vehemently and angrily denied that he had ever knowingly associated with anti-Semites.

The 66-year-old said: “Antisemitism, Islamophobia, far-right racism is totally wrong and absolutely obnoxious and I’ve made that absolutely clear to everybody who will listen to me on this subject.”