The Labour former shadow minister Diane Abbott has defended Jeremy Corbyn against allegations he had links with antisemitic extremists, saying there will always be people who are less than savoury in liberation movements.
Abbott, who nominated Corbyn for his leadership bid, said the frontrunner was being smeared by people trying to make him guilty by association – because the British establishment is “frozen with fear” about the prospect of his victory.
She said Labour MPs were always rushing between meetings and often did not have time to check who attended. His critics were also “plucking incidents out of a very long career”, Abbott said.
“He has been an MP for 30 years. In those 30 years he has done thousands of meetings, rallies memorial events. Jeremy is hyperactive, and for every one event another left MP will do, Jeremy will do three,” she told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“If over those 30 years he has been on a platform with somebody it is now clear is an antisemite or a holocaust denier or whatever it is … given the often chaotic nature of liberation movements, it does not make him a fellow traveller with antisemitism.”
Corbyn’s campaign has been forced to field a growing number of questions about the company he has kept in the past. He was forced to backtrack on Wednesday over the fact he met a Lebanese activist subsequently banned from the UK by the former home secretary Jacqui Smith in 2009, having initially claimed to have no idea who the man was.
Abbott’s defence was challenged by James Bloodworth, editor of the Left Foot Forward blog, who said he did not understand how Corbyn could have been unaware that Press TV was owned by the propaganda arm of the Iranian state when hosting a chat show on it, or that there were open chants of “death to Israel” at a rally he is said to have attended.
Corbyn spent much of a question and answer session on BBC Radio 4 on Wednesday furiously denying ever knowingly associating with antisemites. “I’ve spent my life opposing racism. Until my dying day, I’ll be opposed to racism in any form,” he said on Wednesday. “Antisemitism, Islamophobia, far-right racism is totally wrong and absolutely obnoxious and I’ve made that absolutely clear to everybody who will listen to me on this subject.”
Asked about his use of the word friends for terrorist group Hamas, he said it was used as diplomatic language and had been taken “seriously out of context”.
He added that “dialogue is essential if we are to bring about a long-term peace process” in the Middle East. “I think we have to have a discussion that includes Hamas ... There are people who think we can have a peace process by ignoring them, sadly that cannot be the case.”
The MP for Islington North has previously said he did attend a few meetings some years ago of a group called Deir Yassin Remembered, founded by Paul Eisen, a Holocaust denier. However, Corbyn said Eisen certainly did not hold those antisemitic views publicly at the time and he would never have associated with the group if he had known.
Last week, the Jewish Chronicle published a front-page editorial saying Corbyn had questions to answer about alleged links with people who have used antisemitic rhetoric. Since then, dozens of prominent activists have signed an open letter to the newspaper saying its assertion that “most British Jews” were worried about a Corbyn victory was “without foundation”.
This article was written by Rowena Mason Political correspondent, for theguardian.com on Thursday 20th August 2015 10.14 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010