Labour leadership contender Jeremy Corbyn has dismissed “ludicrous and wrong” suggestions he would knowingly have associated with Holocaust deniers, as he broke his silence about accusations he has past links to people with antisemitic views.
Asked about the allegations, Corbyn said he did attend a few meetings some years ago of a group called Deir Yassin Remembered, founded by Holocaust denier Paul Eisen. However, Corbyn said Eisen certainly did not hold those views publicly at the time and he would never have associated with the group if he had known.
Corbyn gave the explanation as he was grilled by Channel 4 News for the first time since the Jewish Chronicle published a front page editorial saying he had questions to answer about alleged links with people who have used antisemitic rhetoric.
The Labour leadership frontrunner said: “I have no contact now whatsoever with Paul Eisen and Deir Yassin Remembered. I did attend a number of events concerning Deir Yassin Remembered some years ago, I think two or three of them.” Deir Yassin was a Palestinian Arab village near Jerusalem where there was a historic massacre.
The questions first arose after Eisen wrote a blog post, saying Corbyn had attended some of his annual commemorations and once got his chequebook out for the group. Corbyn said any donations would only have been throwing coins into a collection bucket at a meeting.
“Fifteen years ago [Eisen] was not a Holocaust denier,” said the Labour leadership frontrunner. “Had he been a Holocaust denier, I would have had absolutely nothing to do with him. I was moved by the plight of people who had lost their village in Deir Yassin.”
Corbyn said: “Holocaust denial is vile and wrong. The Holocaust was the most vile part of our history. The Jewish people killed by the Nazi Holocaust were the people who suffered the most in the 20th century.”
He said he regretted giving any money if Eisen was a Holocaust denier at the time.
Corbyn was also asked about having met Raed Salah, saying he had been unaware that the cleric had been convicted of racist incitement involving the medieval blood libel that Jewish people use the blood of children to make bread.
“We had quite a long conversation and I made my views very clear. He did not at any stage utter any antisemitic remarks to me. Had he been convicted at that time then I’m surprised the Israeli government allowed him to travel.”
Asked if he made “misjudgments”, Corbyn said: “You’re putting a lot of words into my mouth about misjudgments. Any form of racism is wrong, the need to talk to people to bring about a peace process is absolutely right.”
The interview was broadcast as Corbyn addressed a packed meeting at Ealing in west London.
Earlier, he spoke to Labour List about his view that the party’s elections should be annual and its autumn conference given “more authority” in policy making.
He said “economic policy, environmental policy, constitutional issues” should be approached with “open conventions”.
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