A Labour minister has provoked outrage after she laughed when questioned about fresh anti-Semitism claims against Jeremy Corbyn.
Rebecca Long-Bailey, the shadow Business Secretary, was questioned over Mr Corbyn’s foreword to a century-old book which argued that banks and newspapers were controlled by Jews.
Her reaction was condemned by MPs and Jewish commentators.
Stephen Pollard, editor of the Jewish Chronicle, tweeted: “Her comments on Corbyn's antisemitism, in which she actually laughed, were a model of their kind - the contemptible defence of a racist by his allies.”
Comedian and TV presenter Matt Forde added: “Just a tip for Labour spokespeople, like Rebecca Long-Bailey who was on the #R4Today just now. When responding to allegations of antisemitism, NEVER LAUGH. That was shocking.”
Ms Long-Bailey, tipped as a future Labour leader, defended Mr Corbyn, telling Sky News: “He was commenting in a wider political sense in the same way many MPs have done over the years.
“In no way would Labour or Jeremy Corbyn condone any anti-Semitic comments of any kind.”
Does anyone have a clip of Rebecca Long-Bailey on Today? Her comments on Corbyn's antisemitism, in which she actually laughed, were a model of their kind - the contemptible defence of a racist by his allies
— Stephen Pollard (@stephenpollard) May 1, 2019
Just a tip for Labour spokespeople, like Rebecca Long-Bailey who was on the #R4Today just now. When responding to allegations of antisemitism, NEVER LAUGH. That was shocking.
— Matt Forde (@mattforde) May 1, 2019
She said that she had not read Hobson's book, but added: "The guy in question was a political thinker of his time, whether you agree with his opinions or not.”
The outrage was sparked after it emerged Mr Corbyn described a new edition of economist JA Hobson's Imperialism: A Study - written in 1902 - as "brilliant, and very controversial at the time" and "a great tome”.
Labour has denied that his comments amounted to an endorsement of sections of the book which are widely regarded as anti-Semitic.
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In the book, Hobson suggested that finance in Europe was controlled "by men of a singular and peculiar race who have behind them many centuries of financial experience" and "are in a unique position to control the policy of nations”.
He argued that the great financial houses have "control which they exercise over the body of public opinion through the press”.
And he suggested that no European state would engage in a great war "if the house of Rothschild and its connections set their face against it”.
Hobson's theory that imperialism was driven by international finance seeking new markets was quoted approvingly by Lenin.
And Mr Corbyn wrote in his foreword: "Hobson's railing against the commercial interests that fuel the role of the popular press with tales of imperial might, that then lead on to racist caricatures of African and Asian peoples, was both correct and prescient.”
Former Labour MP Ian Austin, who quit the party earlier this year in protest at Mr Corbyn's handling of anti-Semitism allegations, said: "Jeremy Corbyn endorsed (a) book that peddles racist stereotypes of Jewish financiers and imperialism as 'brilliant' and a 'great tome' ... He is completely unfit to lead the Labour Party.”
My advice to any Labour MP today: refuse to defend Jeremy Corbyn lauding a book containing classic antisemitic tropes. If he wants to defend the indefensible he should go on the airwaves and defend himself. He has a responsibility to explain himself. https://t.co/ioOVhJJ1O3
— Wes Streeting MP (@wesstreeting) May 1, 2019
Labour backbencher Wes Streeting added: “My advice to any Labour MP today: refuse to defend Jeremy Corbyn lauding a book containing classic antisemitic tropes. If he wants to defend the indefensible he should go on the airwaves and defend himself. He has a responsibility to explain himself.”
Conservative peer Lord Finkelstein, who uncovered the foreword in The Times, asked: "Did Mr Corbyn not read the book before he praised it? Did he read it but, as with the Mear One mural, not notice that it was anti-Semitic? Did he realise it but decide it didn't matter because there were other more important things about it?
"One thing is clear - the problem of left-wing anti-Semitism isn't really about Israel, it's much more deeply embedded than that.
But historian Tristram Hunt, who quit Labour in 2017 to take up the post of director of the Victoria and Albert Museum, said it was "reductive" to see Hobson purely as an anti-Semitic figure, arguing that he was "an important figure, worthy of study, within the 20th century liberal tradition”.
A Labour Party spokesman said: "Jeremy praised the Liberal Hobson's century-old classic study of imperialism in Africa and Asia.
"Similarly to other books of its era, Hobson's work contains outdated and offensive references and observations, and Jeremy completely rejects the anti-Semitic elements of his analysis.”