Veteran Labour MP refuses to apologise for retelling antisemitic ‘joke’

Veteran Labour MP refuses to apologise for retelling antisemitic ‘joke’

Harriet Harman says she retold the joke on TV in order to make a point, but angry Jewish leaders say she should apologise

Former Labour deputy leader Harriet Harman
Former Labour deputy leader Harriet Harman

The veteran Labour MP Harriet Harman has ignored a call from the Jewish Leadership Council for her to apologise after re-telling an antisemitic “joke” on Andrew Neil’s This Week show on BBC.

Ms Harman, former deputy leader of the Labour Party and the longest-ever continuously-serving woman MP in Parliament, was taking part in a discussion about “bad taste” jokes.

She said: “I’ve long been accused of being a humourless feminist and I’ll give you two examples that I protested about because they were offensive and hurtful”.

She then mentioned a rag magazine published by Guy’s Hospital in her early years as an MP, and — before re-telling the “joke”, claimed that “people like Andrew [Neil] say that these things are all right.”

But when Ms Harman re-told the offensive joke, concluding “that is not funny”, Mr Neil was outraged and refused to let her continue with her second example or to defend herself.

Later on social media Mr Neil wrote: “What was wrong was 1) Even to tell that so-called joke on live TV. 2) Claim I would like the joke. Appalling on both counts”.

He rejected suggestions that he had overreacted to Ms Harman, saying: “Really? How would [you] have handled being accused of liking a vile anti-Semitic slur?”

Mr Neil recently won praise for a hard-hitting address to the Holocaust Educational Trust’s annual dinner, in which he denounced antisemitism wherever it occurred.

Attempts to speak to Ms Harman were rejected by her office; instead the Jewish News was referred to her Twitter post in which she published an extract from her recent autobiography, A Woman’s Work.

In the post, which she entitled: “Anti-Semitic ‘jokes/banter’ perpetuate discrimination & hatred. No laughing matter”, Ms Harman wrote that after seeing the antisemitic “joke” and another racist anecdote, she had complained to Guy’s Hospital — which is in her constituency — and had referred the rag magazine to the Director of Public Prosecutions.

She wrote: “The South London Press ran an editorial condemning me for overreacting and being humourless. But the Jewish community and local black and Asian organisations were deeply appreciative when the hospital apologised.”

But Simon Johnson, chief executive of the Jewish Leadership Council, described the politician’s decision to repeat the story on live TV as a “staggering error of judgement”.

He added: “I cannot recall being so disappointed in a politician. Harriet Harman must surely know better than to repeat a vile Holocaust joke, irrespective of the point she was trying to make. She must apologise, and do so quickly.”

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