McDonnell: Corbyn’s comments on British Zionists taken out of context

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Jeremy Corbyn’s suggestion that British Zionists “don’t understand English irony” have been taken out of context, the shadow chancellor has claimed.

John McDonnell defended the Labour leader – saying he had devoted his life to securing peace in the Middle East – after Mr Corbyn was heavily criticised for the remarks.

In footage published on the MailOnline from a conference in 2013, Mr Corbyn says: “[British Zionists] clearly have two problems: 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.”

Labour MP Luciana Berger said the video contained “inexcusable comments” which made her feel “unwelcome in my own party”.

She wrote on Twitter: “The video released today of the leader of @UKLabour making inexcusable comments – defended by a party spokesman – makes me as a proud British Jew feel unwelcome in my own party.

“I’ve lived in Britain all my life and I don’t need any lessons in history/irony.”

Mr McDonnell told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the video had been taken out of context.

“I think this has all been taken out of context: whatever Jeremy has said throughout the years has always been about how to secure peace, particularly within the Middle East and also peace with justice for all concerned – both members of the Jewish community and also members of the Palestinian community,” he said.

“In that context Jeremy has devoted his life, so I think this would take expressions out of context in that way are not helping.”

Ms Berger received support from fellow Labour backbenchers, with Newcastle North MP Catherine McKinnell tweeting: “Standing right with you @lucianaberger.”

Sedgefield MP Phil Wilson wrote: “Right beside you @lucianaberger.”

In recent weeks, the Labour leader has come under increasing pressure over a number of issues linked to anti-Semitism and the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, including the party’s definition of anti-Semitism, his 2014 visit to a Palestinian cemetery in Tunisia and meetings with those connected to the Palestinian cause.

A spokeswoman for Mr Corbyn said: “Jeremy is totally opposed to all forms of anti-Semitism and is determined to drive it out from society.

“At this event, he was referring to a group of pro-Israel activists misunderstanding and then criticising the Palestinian ambassador for a speech at a separate event about the occupation of the West Bank.”

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