Jeremy Corbyn under fire over foreword to 1902 'antisemitic' book

1 May 2019, 14:44 | Updated: 1 May 2019, 15:35

Jeremy Corbyn has come under fire for writing the foreword to a recent edition of a century-old book that has been labelled "obviously antisemitic".

The Labour leader faced calls to apologise for describing the 2011 publication of a text first released in 1902 as "brilliant", "very controversial at the time" and "a great tome".

He made the comments while a backbencher in 2011, in a foreword to economist John Atkinson Hobson's 'Imperialism: A Study'. The book argued that banks and newspapers were controlled by Jews.

Hobson suggested in the book 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".

The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance defines one example of antisemitism as making allegations "about a world Jewish conspiracy or of Jews controlling the media, economy, government or other societal institutions".

Mr Corbyn wrote in his foreword that "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".

The Board of Deputies of British Jews has called on him to explain how he came to write the foreword, saying the book contained an "obvious antisemitic message".

Labour backbencher Wes Streeting said it was up to Mr Corbyn to "defend the indefensible", while Labour-turned-independent MP Ian Austin wrote: "He is completely unfit to lead the Labour Party."

A senior Labour source said Hobson's text contained "repugnant and racist" language.

"He regarded it as a book of its time with the language of that era," they claimed, adding it was "reasonable" for him to have written the foreword without focusing on the offensive language used.

Historian Tristram Hunt, who quit Labour in 2017 to become director of the Victoria and Albert Museum, said it was "reductive" to see Hobson purely as an antisemitic figure.

He argued that he was "an important figure, worthy of study, within the 20th century liberal tradition".

It comes after the Jewish Chronicle reported former deputy prime minister Lord Prescott "ranted aggressively" at a journalist that Labour's antisemitism row was "about Israel".

The newspaper said when it asked him about the comments he told them to "f*** off… because you are a journalist".