Jeremy Corbyn is the target of “anti-Semitic smears” from a political class “terrified” that he is going to win the Labour leadership race, Diane Abbott has claimed.
In a staunch defence of Mr Corbyn, Ms Abbott said the Islington North MP’s appearances in debates alongside extremists was due to his “hyperactive” work as a backbencher.
She said often MPs do not know who they are appearing alongside when they agree to speak at events, adding it was wrong to brand Mr Corbyn with “guilt by association”.
The defence comes with Mr Corbyn under mounting pressure over links to organisations like Hamas and Hezbollah as well as Holocaust deniers.
Speaking on BBC Radio Four’s Today programme, Ms Abbott said: "The British political class is frozen with the fear at the idea Jeremy will actually win this leadership election – it's by no means certain but the very notion of it terrifies people because the energy behind him has the power to disrupt and to change and transform politics. This is where these anti-Semitic smears come from... It's guilt by association.”
She added: “Jeremy has been an MP for 30 years. In those 30 years he has done thousands of meetings, rallies, memorial events.
"I mean, Jeremy is hyperactive, so for every one event another left MP will do, Jeremy will do three. Now, if over those 30 years he has been on a platform with somebody who now is clear is an anti-Semite and a holocaust denier … given the often chaotic nature of liberation movements that will happen, that doesn't make Jeremy a fellow traveller with anti-Semitism.”
It came after Mr Corbyn was forced to deny he is racist as the Labour leadership front-runner’s links to extremist groups threatened to overshadow his campaign.
Mr Corbyn angrily responded to reports he shared platforms with anti-Semites and controversial figures from Hamas and Hezbollah in a heated BBC interview.
The Islington North MP denied ever meeting a Muslim extremist who has reportedly condoned killing British soldiers – but reversed his position hours later after a photograph surfaced of the pair together.
Since unexpectedly surging into the lead, Mr Corbyn has come under increasing pressure to justify his links with extremists during his time as a backbencher.
He has dismissed introducing members from Hamas and Hezbollah as “friends” during a meeting as “diplomatic language in the context of dialogue”.
Mr Cobryn was confronted about his links to Dyab Abou Jahjah, an alleged supporter of Hezbollah with whom he shared a platform, on BBC Radio Four's World at One.
"Sorry, who? I saw the name this morning and I asked somebody: 'who is he?’,” Mr Corbyn replied.
Pushed to confirm that he had never heard of Mr Jahjah, the Islington North MP added: "I'm sorry, I don't know who this person is."
However within minutes a photograph of Mr Corbyn appearing alongside Mr Jahjah in 2009 was circulating on social media.
Mr Jahjah posted a blog after the interview outlining how he met Mr Corbyn. “I have briefly met and collaborated with Jeremy Corbyn in 2009,” he wrote.
“We organised a debate at the British parliament where Corbyn, myself, and Hezbullah MP, and current Lebanese government minister, Hussein Haj Hassan spoke.
“A day before, we had also spoken together at a rally of the British anti-war movement. Corbyn’s openness to dialogue is what made the visit possible.”
Pushed on Twitter about whether the meeting really took place, Mr Jahjah responded: “That is beyond any doubt and is documented and resulted in my ban to enter the UK. But maybe he forgot all about it. Who knows.”
With growing evidence of the meeting emerging Mr Corbyn’s team was forced to send out a reversal as the candidate admitted he had actually met Mr Jahjah
"My staff have researched this and tell me that I did meet this man in 2009 but I have no recollection of him,” Mr Corbyn said.
“As an MP I have met thousands of people over the years. Because I meet them, it does not mean I share their views or endorse their views."
Mr Corbyn also used his appearance on Radio Four to hit back over allegations he has failed to criticise people who have espoused “anti-Semitic rhetoric”.
Photo: EPA/FACUNDO ARRIZABALAGA
"My views are that the Holocaust was the most disgraceful and vile process of the history of the 20th century, if not the wider world and that has to be understood by successive generations and it has to be understood by all our children in schools. That surely is important,” Mr Corbyn said.
He added: "The idea that I'm some kind of racist or anti-Semitic person is beyond appalling, disgusting and deeply offensive. I have spent my life opposing racism. Until my dying day I will be opposed to racism in any form."
Mr Corbyn also sent detailed answers rebutting seven concerns raised by the Jewish Chronicle over his links, saying he “unequivocally” rejected anti-Semitism.