Jeremy Corbyn has described revelations about his endorsement of a book featuring overtly antisemitic tropes as part of a series of “ill-founded accusations” over Jew-hate by political opponents – highlighting that the journalist who uncovered the foreward is a Conservative peer.
The comments, in a letter to Board of Deputies President Marie van der Zyl, provoked fresh anger in a week when it was revealed the Labour leader had in 2011 written a six-page gushing endorsement to a new version of J A Hobson’s Imperialism: A Study.
Hobson argued in the book that global finance was controlled in Europe by “men of a single and peculiar race, who have behind them many centuries of financial experience”, who were “in a unique position to control the policy”.
While a spokesman said this week Corbyn “completely rejects the antisemitic elements in his analysis”, the veteran MP made no mention of this in his lengthy endorsement. Instead, the Labour leader described Hobson’s book as “a great tome”, and praised the writer’s “brilliant, and very controversial at the time” analysis of the “pressures” behind western, and in particular British, imperialism at the turn of the 20th century.
After the Board of Deputies wrote to him to demand an explanation, Corbyn responded yesterday to say he was “deeply saddened” that the “mischievous representation of my foreward will have caused real stress within the Jewish community” and rounded on the “false accusation that I endorsed the antisemitic content of this 1902 text”.
He added: “We writing the foreward, I reserved praise for some of the broad themes of Hobson’s century-old classic study of imperialism in Africa and Asia. As with many book written in this era, the work contains highly offensive references and observations. I totally deplore the language used in that book to describe Jews and people from colonised countries.
“The accusation is the latest in a series of equally ill-founded accusations of anti-Jewish racism that Labour’s political opponents have made against me. I note that the Hobson story was written by a Conservative Party peer in a newspaper whose editorial policy, and owner, have long been hostile to Labour. At a time when Jewish communities in the UK, and throughout Europe, feel under attack, it is a matter of great regret that the issue of antisemitism is often politicised in this way.”
Corbyn said he and his party stood in solidarity with Jewish communities against rising antisemitism and looked forward to working with the BOD to challenge the scourge. “I am proud to have been a long-standing participant in anti-racist campaigns and encourage everyone to give practical and moral support to victims of racism. If somebody attacks a synagogue, a church , a mosque or a temple, it is an attack on all of us.”
Board of Deputies president Marie van der Zyl wrote to Corbyn, telling him “community is entitled to an apology for this failure to speak out against prejudice against our community when confronted with racism.
“There is ‘an impression that you either do not care whether your actions, inadvertently or deliberately, signal support for racist attitudes or behaviours”. She adds:
“Whilst you, quite correctly, explicitly commended Hobson’s criticism of caricatures of African and Asian people, there is a failure to make even a passing reference to the blatant antisemitism in the book that you enthusiastically endorse.”
Marie added: “In your letter, you claim only to have ‘reserved praise for some of the broad themes’ of Hobson’s book and that you ‘totally deplore’ the antisemitism that was commonplace in ‘this era.
“However, we note that your lengthy and detailed foreword of over 3500 words, variously describes Hobson’s work as “great”, “remarkable”, “interesting”, “brilliant”, “painstaking”, “very powerful”, “attractive”, “valid”, “correct”, “prescient” and “very prescient”, without any qualification referring to the antisemitism within it.”
The Jewish Labour Movement has submitted and official complaint to the party over this week’s revelation and asked the EHRC to include Corbyn’s endorsement of Hobson’s book in any investigation of the party for institutional antisemitism. “A fish rots from the head”, it said in a strongly-worded statement, adding that any other Labour member would have been suspended and calling on Corbyn to consider his position.
Margaret Hodge took to Twitter to say: “For Corbyn to have praised a book packed full of antisemitic conspiracies – the very same conspiracies directed at me – is disgusting.” Wes Streeting said: “My advice to any Labour MP : refuse to defend Jeremy Corbyn lauding a book containing classic antisemitic tropes. If he wants to defend the indefensible he should go on the airwaves and defend himself. He has a responsibility to explain himself.”