Rayner apol­ogy over ‘sem­i­nal’ Shoah quote

The Jewish Chronicle - - NEWS - BY LEE HARPIN

LABOUR’S AN­GELA Rayner has ad­dressed “the ele­phant in the room” dur­ing her speech to the Board of Deputies an­nual Chanukah re­cep­tion, ad­mit­ting her in­vi­ta­tion “wasn’t uni­ver­sally pop­u­lar.”

In an ad­dress aimed at eas­ing wide­spread con­cern over her in­vi­ta­tion to Mon­day’s event at the House of Com­mons, the shadow ed­u­ca­tion sec­re­tary re­ferred to com­ments she wrote in 2015 de­scrib­ing Nor­man Fin­klestein’s book The Holo­caust In­dus­try — which ac­cused Amer­i­can Jewish lead­ers of ex­ploit­ing the mem­ory of the Shoah — as “sem­i­nal”.

The com­ments resur­faced last week amid ten­sions over the Board’s de­ci­sion to in­vite her to speak.

Ms Rayner said: “Some years ago I wrote an ar­ti­cle re­flect­ing on my visit to Auschwitz in­tend­ing to show sol­i­dar­ity with Jewish com­mu­nity over the Holo­caust and mod­ern an­ti­semitism.

“It in­cluded a ref­er­ence that I now deeply re­gret and I would cer­tainly not use it again. I can only re­peat how sorry that I am for that.”

Ms Rayner at­tacked the “hor­ri­fy­ing con­se­quences” of “big­otry about Is­rael and Jewish peo­ple gen­er­ally,” in­sist­ing that her role on Jeremy Cor­byn’s front bench had made her re­flect on what she still had to learn.

She said Labour “could not rest as a party” un­til it too had rooted out Je­whate from its own ranks.

Ms Rayner added: “I have seen the abuse my col­leagues Lu­ciana Berger, Ruth Smeeth, Dame Louise Ell­man and Dame Mar­garet Hodge have re­ceived.

“I have no doubt the fact they are Jew- ish women has been a big part of that abuse.”

Nei­ther Ms Berger nor Ms Smeeth at­tended the event. Dame Mar­garet at­tended briefly, leav­ing be­fore Ms Rayner’s speech.

Ms Rayner in­sisted Labour had made “progress” with in­ter­nal pro­ce­dures on deal­ing with an­ti­semitism, which was met with some scep­ti­cism at the event.

She said she was glad ac­tivists such as Tony Green­stein had been ex­pelled and said “those who dis­tort his­tory by liken­ing Hitler to Zion­ism are no longer wel­come”.

Ms Rayner said it was “per­fectly pos­si­ble” to crit­i­cise any govern­ment “In­clud­ing Is­rael’s” with­out re­sort­ing to “racism” and she was “glad” the Party had adapted the In­ter­na­tional Holo­caust Re­mem­brance As­so­ci­a­tion def­i­ni­tion of Jew-hate “with full ex­am­ples”.

She added: “I want to make it clear we will not stop faith schools in­clud­ing Jewish schools from main­tain­ing their char­ac­ter and their ethos.”

Ear­lier, Board Pres­i­dent Marie van der Zyl de­fended her de­ci­sion to in­vite Ms Rayner. She said “at­tempts to en­gage are fraught with con­tro­versy and com­plex­i­ties” but added: “We have to com­mu­ni­cate if we are to over­come chal­lenges.”

Lord Pick­les also spoke after step­ping in for For­eign Sec­re­tary Jeremy Hunt who with­drew be­cause of the Brexit de­bate. Point­edly, he spoke of his in­volve­ment as UK lead on the IHRA an­ti­semitism def­i­ni­tion. He said he had “never in­tended to cause any prob­lem to any po­lit­i­cal party in the UK” with the def­i­ni­tion and that “ini­tially ev­ery­one ac­cepted it.”

LABOUR MP Dame Mar­garet Hodge has said speak­ing out about an­ti­semitism within her party was the most im­por­tant thing she has done in her po­lit­i­cal life.

She was speak­ing at the Spec­ta­tor Awards last week after re­ceiv­ing the best speech award for her words dur­ing a House of Com­mons de­bate on the sub­ject.

That speech in­cluded a pow­er­ful ac­count of how mem­bers of her fam­ily had been killed by the Nazis and how, on a visit to Auschwitz, she saw a mound of suit­cases in­clud­ing one which bore her un­cle’s ini­tials.

Guests at the awards ap­plauded Dame Mar­garet, who ear­lier this year was em­broiled in a row with her party after she ac­cused Jeremy Cor­byn of be­ing an “an­ti­semite” and a “racist” to his face.

Labour dropped an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into her con­duct after the party’s threat of dis­ci­plinary ac­tion be­came the epi­cen­tre of the row over its fail­ure to adopt the in­ter­na­tion­ally recog­nised def­i­ni­tion of an­ti­semitism.

She told the guests: “The se­ri­ous point that I want to make is that my chil­dren are the first gen­er­a­tion in my fam­ily who haven’t had to leave a coun­try be­cause of dis­crim­i­na­tion and racism.”

She said that fight­ing for her chil­dren and “bring­ing the per­sonal to­gether with the po­lit­i­cal maybe re­ally dif­fi­cult but it is prob­a­bly the most im­por­tant thing that I have done in my po­lit­i­cal life.”

En­gage­ment is fraught with con­tro­versy and com­plex­i­ties

PHOTO: GETTY IM­AGES

Mar­garet Hodge

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