The outspoken Unite union leader, Len McCluskey, who has repeatedly downplayed antisemitism in the Labour Party, has apologised after saying that a Jewish politician should “go into a room and count his gold”.
Mr McCluskey made the comment about Lord Mandelson, a New Labour grandee and former minister, in an interview with the BBC. Told that Lord Mandelson had praised the new Leader of the Labour Party, Mr McCluskey told Newsnight: “I stopped listening to what Peter Mandelson said [sic] many, many years ago. I suggest that Peter just goes into a room and counts his gold, not worry about what’s happening in the Labour Party – leave that to those of us who are interested in ordinary working people.”
Lord Mandelson has made no secret of his Jewish heritage in the past. His grandfather founded the Harrow United Synagogue and his father worked at the JC. Lord Mandelson said in 2010: “It’s not that I am religious. It’s the extended family, which part of me wants to be part of.”
The notion that Jews are rich and self-interested is an age-old antisemitic trope.
Unite defended Mr McCluskey’s remark, reportedly saying in a statement: “Mr Mandelson’s religion was not relevant to the comments made by Mr McCluskey. Indeed, to the best of our knowledge Mr Mandelson is not Jewish. The ordinary meaning of the statement made by Mr McCluskey is one of his belief that in recent years Mr Mandelson has had more interest in increasing his own wealth than in fighting for social justice for working class people. The suggestion of any antisemitic meaning to the commentary would be ludicrous.”
However, late last night, Mr McCluskey tweeted: “Before this gets out of hand, let me say language is important and I apologise to Peter Mandelson and anyone else if mine has caused hurt.”
A spokesperson for Campaign Against Antisemitism said: “No wonder that Len McCluskey was among those who always insisted that they never witnessed antisemitism in the Labour Party or continually downplayed it, seeing as they can’t even tell when they use antisemitic tropes themselves.”
On 28th May 2019, the Equality and Human Rights Commission launched a full statutory investigation into antisemitism in the Labour Party following a formal referral and detailed legal representations from Campaign Against Antisemitism, which is the complainant.
In the first release of its Antisemitism in Political Parties research, Campaign Against Antisemitism showed that Labour Party candidates for Parliament in the 2019 general election accounted for 82 percent of all incidents of antisemitic discourse by parliamentary candidates.
Campaign Against Antisemitism’s Antisemitism Barometer 2019 showed that antisemitism on the far-left of British politics has surpassed that of the far-right.
Campaign Against Antisemitism advocates for zero tolerance of antisemitism in public life. To that end we monitor all political parties and strive to ensure that any cases of concern are properly addressed.