Labour shadow chancellor John McDonnell has doubled down on his comparison between the attempt to extradite WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to the US and the persecution of Alfred Dreyfus, the 19th-century French army officer falsely accused of treason because he was Jewish.
Following a two-hour visit to see Assange in Belmarsh prison in London on Thursday, who is accused by US authorities of leaking thousands of classified documents, Mr McDonnell said: "I think this is one of the most important and significant political trials of this generation, in fact longer.
"I think it's the Dreyfus case of our age.
"The way in which a person is being persecuted for political reasons, for simply exposing the truth for what went on in relation to recent wars."
The statement sparked outrage from several quarters of the Jewish community, including Karen Pollock, chief executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust, who said: "Dreyfus was a French artillery officer falsely accused of treason because he was Jewish.
"Go figure how or why John McDonnell could make such an inappropriate comparison with the Assange case.
"Outrageous, ridiculous and so deeply offensive."
Claudia Mendoza, the Jewish Leadership Council's policy director, also said: "John McDonnell's analogy is crass and offensive.
"Julian Assange's case cannot be compared to the Dreyfus Affair, one of the most important moments in Jewish history."
However, when challenged about his statement on Twitter, Mr McDonnell doubled down, saying: “It was quite clear what I meant.
“Just like the Dreyfus case, the legal action against Julian Assange is a major political trial in which the establishment is out to victimise an innocent. On that basis, of course it’s right to assert than it’s a parallel.”
It was quite clear what I meant. Just like the Dreyfus case, the legal action against Julian Assange Is a major political trial in which the establishment is out to victimise an innocent. On that basis, of course it’s right to assert than it’s a parallel.— John McDonnell MP (@johnmcdonnellMP) February 20, 2020
Assange could face decades in a US prison if charged with violating the Espionage Act by publishing classified information through WikiLeaks.
In 1894, Dreyfus was convicted of treason for allegedly selling military secrets to the Germans and was sent to a penal colony in a case that was widely alleged to be motivated by antisemitism.
He was eventually exonerated following a long campaign on his behalf that included intellectuals such as novelist Emile Zola.