I sympathise with Jewish anger at Labour over anti-Semitism, says Tony Blair

Former British prime minister Tony Blair has said he can “sympathise” with the anger of the Jewish community in a row over anti-Semitism that has engulfed the Labour Party.

Mr Blair said failing to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definitions of anti-Semitism was a “disastrous move” in an interview with the BBC’s Newsnight programme.

He also warned that while he does not believe Jeremy Corbyn is personally anti-Semitic, proceeding with disciplinary action against Dame Margaret Hodge – who levelled this criticism at the current leader – would be “crazy”.

Dame Margaret Hodge confronted Jeremy Corbyn in person on Tuesday, and defended her decision to do so (Yui Mok/PA)

Dame Margaret, who lost family members in the Holocaust, faces action from the party over the incident in Parliament on Tuesday night.

She challenged Mr Corbyn behind the Speaker’s chair in the Commons following the adoption by Labour’s ruling National Executive Committee (NEC) of a new code of conduct on anti-Semitism – which has been widely denounced by Jewish groups.

Mr Corbyn’s spokesman branded the Barking MP’s remarks “clearly unacceptable”.

Mr Blair told Newsnight: “I have always said that I don’t believe that he (Mr Corbyn) is personally anti-Semitic.

“But I think this is a disastrous move for the Labour Party, this refusal to accept clearly the IHRA definitions of anti-Semitism.

“And yeah, I’m afraid I can understand the anger of much of the Jewish community and I can sympathise with it.”

Labour’s NEC did not include within the new code of conduct the full definition of anti-Semitism – including illustrative examples – set out by the IHRA.

The code explicitly endorses the IHRA’s working definition of anti-Semitism and includes a list of behaviours likely to be regarded as anti-Semitic copied word-for-word from the international organisation’s own document.

But it omits four examples from the IHRA list:

– Accusing Jewish people of being more loyal to Israel than their home country;

– Claiming that Israel’s existence as a state is a racist endeavour;

– Requiring higher standards of behaviour from Israel than other nations; and

– Comparing contemporary Israeli policies to those of the Nazis.

Labour insisted that while the examples are not reproduced word for word, they are covered in the new code.

Dame Margaret, writing for The Guardian on Wednesday, said that by refusing to fully adopt the definition Labour “chose to offend Jews” and make the party a “hostile environment” for them.

She wrote: “I confronted Jeremy Corbyn in Parliament and told him to his face what I and many others are feeling.

“Under his leadership the Labour party is perceived by most Jews, thousands of party members and millions of members of the public as an anti-Semitic, and therefore racist, party.

“As our leader, he is now perceived by many as an anti-Semite.”

Before Dame Margaret’s Guardian article was published, Mr Corbyn’s spokesman indicated the party was already considering unspecified disciplinary action.

He said: “The behaviour was clearly unacceptable between colleagues. Jeremy’s door is always open to discussions with members of the PLP. Action will be taken.”

- Press Association

Most Read in World