Rayner apology over ‘seminal’ Shoah quote
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