Len McCluskey has apologised after suggesting Lord Peter Mandelson, should “go into a room and count his gold”, with Jewish leaders branding it an “antisemitic trope”.
The Unite union’s general secretary, a leading ally of Jeremy Corbyn, made his comments on BBC Newsnight after reporter Lewis Goodall told him that former cabinet minister Lord Mandelson had been “nothing but full of praise for Keir Starmer” in an interview.
Len McCluskey responded: “I stopped listening to what Peter Mandelson said many, many years ago. I would suggest Peter just goes into a room and counts his gold. Not worrying about what’s happening in the Labour Party – leave that to those of us who are interested in ordinary working class people.”
Mr Goodall had said earlier in his report that “When Mr McCluskey sat down with me, he used language that could be considered an antisemitic trope.”
After the Newsnight report looking into Sir Keir Starmer’s leadership and the future of the Labour party was aired, a clarification of Len McCluskey’s comments was read out.
The statement by Unite the union said: “Mr Mandelson’s religion was not relevant to the comments made by Mr McCluskey. Indeed to the best of our knowledge Mr Mandelson is not Jewish.
“The ordinary meaning of the statement made by Mr McCluskey is one of his belief that in recent years Mr Mandelson has had more interest in increasing his own wealth than fighting for justice for working class people. The suggestion of any antisemitic meaning to the commentary would be ludicrous.”
Lord Mandelson is not religiously observant but his grandfather founded the Harrow United Synagogue.
Mr McCluskey later tweeted at 12:30am this morning: “Before this gets out of hand, let me say language is important and I apologise to Peter Mandelson and anyone else if mine has caused hurt.”
The Union leader’s comments led to criticism from Board of Deputies President Marie van der Zyl, who said: “We are deeply concerned that the leader of one of the most powerful Trade Unions in this country would go on television and use an antisemitic trope dating back to medieval times.”
Whilst noting that Mr McCluskey has now apologised, this serves to demonstrate just how deeply the language of antisemitism has become rooted among those who would no doubt describe themselves as being proudly anti-racist.”
Mike Katz, the national chairman of the Jewish Labour Movement, said he was “pretty disgusted” by Mr McCluskey’s criticism of Lord Mandelson, while Jewish Labour MP, Dame Margaret Hodge, said: “Why McCluskey uses tropes that many would consider antisemitic on BBC Newsnight is a question only he can answer.”
Regardless, he doesn’t get to obfuscate and dictate to us what is and is not anti-Semitic when called out.”
The ignorance with which these tropes are used by McCluskey and others shows just how pervasive and unchallenged antisemitism is on the Hard Left.”
Mr Mandelson told Newsnight that Keir Starmer would have “no alternative” but to take action against anyone in the party named adversely in the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s forthcoming report into antisemitism within Labour.
Len McCluskey sparked anger in 2017 when he suggested that claims of antisemitism in the Labour party were “mood music” set to undermine Jeremy Corbyn. He more recently branded Sir Keir Starmer’s decision to settle the libel case with the BBC Panorama antisemitism whistle-blowers as an “abuse of members’ money.”
Jewish News has contacted Labour leader Keir Starmer for comment.
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