Jeremy Corbyn has said he is “sincerely sorry” for the pain caused by “pockets” of anti-Semitism within Labour as he faced a backlash from Jewish leaders.
The Labour leader, who has come under fire over his apparent support for the painter of an allegedly anti-Semitic mural, did not make any reference to the criticism aimed at him personally.
But in a statement aimed at building bridges with the Jewish community he acknowledged that Labour must demonstrate a “total commitment to excising pockets of anti-Semitism that exist in and around our party”.
His comments came as Jewish leaders prepared to protest against Mr Corbyn outside the Houses of Parliament.
The Board of Deputies and Jewish Leadership Council joined forces to call for community members “and all those who oppose anti-Semitism” to join the ‘enough is enough’ protest in Parliament Square tomorrow afternoon at 5.30.
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The Labour leader said he would meet representatives from the Jewish community over the coming days.
Mr Corbyn said: “Labour is an anti-racist party and I utterly condemn anti-Semitism, which is why as leader of the Labour Party I want to be clear that I will not tolerate any form of anti-Semitism that exists in and around our movement. We must stamp this out from our party and movement.
“We recognise that anti-Semitism has occurred in pockets within the Labour Party, causing pain and hurt to our Jewish community in the Labour Party and the rest of the country.
“I am sincerely sorry for the pain which has been caused.”
Labour is an anti-racist party and I utterly condemn antisemitism, which is why as leader of the Labour Party I want to…
Responding to the planned protest by the Jewish Leadership Council and Board of Deputies of British Jews, Labour MP Wes Streeting said “we should be ashamed that it’s come to this”.
Former Cabinet minister Yvette Cooper said Mr Corbyn should apologise for his own actions.
She told Channel 4 News: “I think that it would be right for Jeremy to give a full apology for the comments that he made.”
Mr Corbyn said he made a “general comment about the removal of public art on grounds of freedom of speech” but acknowledged he should have looked more closely at the controversial image before posting on Facebook at the time of the row in 2012.
He said: “I sincerely regret that I did not look more closely at the image I was commenting on, the contents of which are deeply disturbing and anti-Semitic.”
But senior Labour figures have defended their leader following criticism of his handling of the mural row.
Shadow culture secretary Tom Watson apologised, adding he was “very, very sorry that people feel hurt” by Mr Corbyn’s response to a Facebook post by street artist Mear One about a plan to paint over the controversial east London mural.
Shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald told Sunday with Niall Paterson on Sky News: “Jeremy Corbyn hasn’t got an anti-Semitic bone in his body. His entire history is about campaigning for human rights to oppose discrimination in whatever form it takes.”
On BBC’s Sunday Politics Mr McDonald said: “Jeremy’s made it clear that he glanced at that. He didn’t look at it properly.
“He was making his comment in the context of freedom of expression of artists painting murals and so on.”
Mr Watson branded the image a “horrible anti-Semitic mural that was rightly taken down”.
Speaking on BBC One’s The Andrew Marr Show, Mr Watson said: “I’m very, very sorry that people feel hurt by this and that’s why I think it’s right that Jeremy has expressed regret for it.”
Sir Keir Starmer said Labour had to demonstrate that its “zero tolerance” approach to anti-Semitism was more than just words.