Labour’s shadow education secretary has apologised for calling the controversial book The Holocaust Industry a “seminal” work, after it provoked outrage in the Jewish community.
Angela Rayner made the comment about anti-Zionist academic Norman Finkelstein’s book – which argues that the American Jewish establishment exploits the memory of the Nazi Holocaust for political and financial gain.
She wrote it in a Facebook post she wrote on Holocaust Memorial Day 2015 – and then repeated again on Holocaust Memorial Day this year.
After Mr Finkelstein’s book was published, JC and Guardian journalist Jonathan Freedland said the author had done “the antisemites work for them”.
Ms Rayner’s comments were unearthed by Twitter account The Golem, amid controversy over her invitiation to speak at the Board of Deputires’ Chanukah event in the House of Lords on Monday.
Ms Rayner said: “I was reflecting on my visits to Auschwitz and speaking about the importance of remembering the Holocaust in order to continually challenge and confront antisemitism.
“I regret the choice of quote I used to illustrate it, and now that I know more about the context I would not make that reference again. I apologise for what was a genuine misunderstanding, in what was always intended to be a message of solidarity with the Jewish community.
“This underscores the importance of engagement with the Jewish community to improve understanding about this issue.”
The Board of Deputies had called on her to issue a “heartfelt apology” when the comments emerged.
Speaking before the apology, Ivor Caplin, chair of the Jewish Labour Movement, said: “There is nothing ‘seminal’ about accusing the Jewish community of collectively abusing the memory of the Holocaust.
“Given Angela’s past engagement with JLM, she should absolutely know better. This is deeply disappointing and she should apologise immediately.”
In her Facebook post Ms Rayner, who reveals she has visited Auschwitz-Birkenau twice, wrote: “As Norman G Finkelstein writes in his seminal book The Holocaust Industry it is important to fight for and preserve the integrity of the historical record.”
She later writes about her visiting the death camps: “My previous visit was in 2003 and I couldn’t help but notice the increased commercialism and tourism related to the Holocaust era in the Kracow region.”
The JC reported last week how a number of Labour MPs with close links to the community have also questioned why Ms Rayner was deemed a suitable figure to invite to speak at the Board’s prestigious Chanukah event.
Ms Rayner was criticised in September after she tweeted about Labour’s growing membership with the words “we’re going to need a bigger smear”, an apparent reference to accusations of antisemitism within the party amid its standoff with the Jewish community over the summer.
She subsequently deleted the tweet, but said: “It was smears against Labour Party in general, no mention of antisemitism smears? Our membership continues to grow despite hostility from sections of the MSM.”
Also in 2015, Ms Rayner called the decision of the British government to send then-Communities Secretary Lord Pickles to events marking the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz a “questionable choice given his comparatively low status”.
Lord Pickles was actually appointed United Kingdom Special Envoy for post-Holocaust issues that same year – and has also worked alongside Ed Balls and co-chairs of the Holocaust Memorial and Learning Centre.