Why Emily Thornberry was wrong to let Jeremy Corbyn off the hook

Attempts to downplay the Labour leader's comments on Zionists ignore what he actually said

September 03, 2018 14:21

The Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry told the BBC this morning that the party should adopt the IHRA definition of antisemitism with its full complement of examples: that no, she did not believe the state of Israel was a racist endeavour: and that far-left antisemitism made her sick.

But she also defended Jeremy Corbyn over his Zionists-don’t-get-irony comments. While the Labour leader regretted saying it the way he did and would not have expressed himself the same way today, she argued, she claimed that his remarks had been directed simply at a particular group of people who had attended a meeting with the Palestinian Ambassador in Parliament.

Let’s recall what Mr Corbyn actually said at the Palestinian Return Centre conference five years ago.

He mentioned that at the time of the Balfour Declaration the “progressive Jewish element in Britain” had opposed it “on the basis that it would only bring problems for a lot of Jewish people”. He spoke of Jewish trade unionists and Jewish people in the East End of London and then said: “It was Zionism that rose up and Zionism that drove them into this sort of ludicrous position they have at the present time.”

What he meant by “ludicrous position” he didn’t specify. But in context, “them” can only denote “Jewish people”.

He went on: “For example, the other evening we had a meeting” where the Palestinian Ambassador spoke. It was “dutifully recorded by the thankfully silent Zionists who were in the audience on that occasion” who then berated the Palestinian Ambassador for what he had said.

“They clearly have two problems,” Mr Corbyn said. “One is they don’t want to study history. And secondly, having lived in this country for a very long time, probably all their lives, they don’t understand English irony either.”

In short, the incident is told as an “example” of the “ludicrous position” represented by Zionism as a whole.

Perhaps the words did not come out quite as he intended - but that is hardly the fault of his listeners.

September 03, 2018 14:21

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