Senior Labour figures defend Jeremy Corbyn over anti-Semitic mural row

Senior Labour figures have defended Jeremy Corbyn amid a row over his apparent support for an anti-Semitic mural.

Shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald told Sky News' Sunday with Niall Paterson that the Labour leader "hasn't got an anti-Semitic bone in his body", while deputy leader Tom Watson said Mr Corbyn had expressed "deep regret".

The mural, made by street artist Mear One, depicted a group of Jewish financiers and white businessmen playing a Monopoly-style game on a board balanced on the backs of people.

Included in the portrait, which was removed by Tower Hamlets Council after a number of complaints were made, was an activist holding a banner which read: "The new world order is the enemy of humanity".

Mr Corbyn left a comment on a Facebook post by Mear One, real name Kalen Ockerman, in 2012 after the artist revealed his work was set to be whitewashed.

The Labour MP wrote: "Why? You are in good company. Rockerfeller (sic) destroyed Diego Viera's mural because it includes a picture of Lenin."

Labour MP Luciana Berger, head of Jewish Labour, said the Labour leader's response to the row was "wholly inadequate" and failed to grasp "on any level the hurt and anguish felt about anti-Semitism".

Mr Corbyn has been criticised in some quarters for expressing "sincere regret that I did not look more closely at the image I was commenting on, the contents of which are deeply disturbing and anti-Semitic", rather than issuing an apology.

The full statement read: "In 2012 I made a general comment about the removal of public art on grounds of freedom of speech. My comment referred to the destruction of the mural Man at the Crossroads by Diego Rivera on the Rockefeller Center.

"That is in no way comparable with the mural in the original post. I sincerely regret that I did not look more closely at the image I was commenting on, the contents of which are deeply disturbing and anti-Semitic.

"I wholeheartedly support its removal.

"I am opposed to the production of anti-Semitic material of any kind, and the defence of free speech cannot be used as a justification for the promotion of anti-Semitism in any form. That is a view I've always held."

And in a sign of the disquiet the row has caused, the Jewish Leadership Council is calling on members of the Jewish community to gather in Parliament Square on Monday ahead of a meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party.

Community leaders will also deliver a letter ahead of the PLP meeting.

But Mr McDonald defended his boss, telling Sky News: "Jeremy Corbyn hasn't got an anti-Semitic bone in his body.

"His entire history is about campaigning for human rights to oppose discrimination in whatever form it takes."

Mr McDonald added: "Be in no doubt whatsoever that Jeremy is absolutely and utterly focused on driving out anti-Semitism wherever it will appear and any other forms of discrimination, it's absolutely beyond doubt that's what the man is about."

He continued: "He's accepted that he didn't look at it properly, it is anti-Semitic and it should be removed, he couldn't be clearer about it."

Mr Watson, who is also shadow culture secretary, said it was a "horrible anti-Semitic mural that was rightly taken down".

He told the BBC's Andrew Marr Show: "That is why Jeremy has expressed deep regret and apologised for that and has actually said that it's right that the mural was taken down."

Mr Watson added: "I'm very, very sorry that people feel hurt by this and that's why I think it's right that Jeremy has expressed regret for it."

He continued: "I think it's time we said that enough is enough on these anti-Semitic stories and we are taking measures to do that."