John McDonnell says antisemitism row has been dreadful for Labour

John McDonnell MP

The shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, has said the past week has been dreadful for Labour, and that Ken Livingstone should apologise for the hurt caused by his remarks linking Hitler and Zionism.

Speaking after Labour announced an independent inquiry into antisemitism in the party, McDonnell said he wanted to prove that Labour was a party that tackled discrimination, but admitted the furore that led to both Livingstone and MP Naz Shah suspended may have cost it votes.

“I just wish Ken would’ve apologised today for some of the offence that he’s caused,” McDonnell said, shortly after Livingstone’s latest interview on LBC. “I know he says that he regrets what he’s said, but I think he should now apologise.”

The former London mayor has refused to apologise to the Jewish community after making a highly criticised link between Hitler and Zionism. He said the row was not about antisemitism but a plot by “embittered old Blairite MPs”.

It has also emerged that the leader of the Israeli Labour party and the country’s opposition, Isaac Herzog, has written to Jeremy Corbyn asking him to visit Jerusalem’s Holocaust museum Yad Vashem.

Herzog, whose father served in the British army, said he had been “appalled and outraged” by the recent comments by senior Labour party members, claiming Livingstone was now “beyond hope of redemption”.

“Knowing that the British Labour party has a proud and distinguished history of fighting racism in every form has only added to my profound disappointment,” he said, citing both Livingstone’s comments - which he called unthinkable - and Shah’s Facebook post suggesting Jews from Israel be transported to the US, which he said “sickens all those of moral conscience to the core”.

He said he hoped a delegation from Labour would visit the museum in the run-up to Yom HaShoah, the day of Holocaust remembrance. “While Ken Livingstone is surely antisemitic beyond hope of redemption, I’m sure there remain many Labour party activists with a willingness to engage and better understand the scourge of antisemitism,” he said.

On Saturday, Livingstone said he was sorry to have caused disruption for Corbyn. “I’m sorry to Jeremy and the Labour party that I am caught up in this but it wasn’t me that started this problem, this is embittered old Blairites bringing it up,” he said.

“I regret mentioning Hitler because it brought up this nonsense. I’m sorry that I said that because it’s wasted all this time, but I can’t bring myself to deny the truth and I’m not going to do that.”

Speaking to Sky News after the former London mayor’s interview, McDonnell said Labour’s independent inquiry, which will be led by the former Liberty director Shami Chakrabarti, would restore the party’s reputation, and rebuffed claims that Labour’s opponents and Corbyn’s enemies within the party had manufactured the row.

“Let me make it absolutely clear that it doesn’t matter where it’s coming from,” he said. “If there’s any evidence at all of antisemitism in our party that’s unacceptable and we’re going to root it out.

“We’re the political party that has always fought and led the charges against racism. We are going to restore reputation, to put ourselves sound footing so everyone knows they are welcome in our party and root out any form of racism.”

McDonnell has won praise in recent days for the comparative swiftness of his response, including the dismissal of Shah, his parliamentary private secretary, once her Facebook posts from 2014 were unearthed. Shah was suspended from the Labour party and apologised for her behaviour in both an op-ed and a speech in the House of Commons.

The shadow chancellor said the scandal had been “a setback” with crucial local elections, the London mayoralty and Welsh and Scottish elections next week. “It’s been a dreadful week, but people are campaigning hard out there and they know now we are going to tackle this issue,” he said.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Jessica Elgot, for theguardian.com on Saturday 30th April 2016 15.24 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010