Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has sparked fresh charges of antisemitism by referring to Jeffrey Epstein as "Epschtine", a pronunciation that Twitter users noted made the name sound "more Jewish".
The comment came during a televised debate between Corbyn and Prime Minister Boris Johnson, ahead of the British general election taking place December 12. Quizzed on their views on Prince Andrew, who has come in for heavy criticism this week due to his friendship with financier and convicted pedophile Jeffrey Epstein, Corbyn said: "Before we discuss Prince Andrew, I think we should discuss the victims that are there because of what Epschtine [sic] was doing and I think there are very, very serious questions that must be answered and nobody should be above the law."
Twitter users were quick to note his unusual pronunciation.
"Has anybody other than Jezbollah ever pronounced 'Epstein' as 'Epsssccchtein'. Just making sure we all knew he was a Jew, maybe?" commented one, posting under the handle @screwlabour.
Another pitched in: "To the idiots saying 'we should pronounce things the way they are spoken in their country' - he was an AMERICAN. He was born in New York. He wasn't German or generic 'Jew' - he was American & his name was Epstein. Corbyn tried to emphasise aliens. He otherised Jews. Again"
Others saw the comment as a dog-whistle to Corbyn's supporters. "Epstein's name has been widely mentioned [...] No-one has pronounced it the way Corbyn did tonight. He was making a point to his fellow Anti-Semite comrades," another viewer said.
Corbyn was forced to defend his record on antisemitism during the debate, but Johnson has been criticized for failing to capitalize on the issue. Asked to comment on the Board of Deputies' claim that he had turned his party into a "cesspit of antisemitism", Corbyn countered: "I have taken action in my party where anyone has committed any antisemitic act or made antisemitic statements." Insisting that known antisemites had been "either suspended or expelled from the party", he added: "We have investigated every single case" - prompting further outcry from people pointing out that many cases remain unresolved. Responding to his comment, Peter Mason, National Secretary for the Jewish Labour Movement said: "This is a lie There are at least 130 outstanding antisemitism cases, some dating back years, that still haven’t been dealt with. The Party haven’t bothered to investigate the cases properly or make decisions. This is the tip of the iceberg. Corbyn and Labour’s total failure to deal with antisemites has seen it be investigated by the EHRC for institutional anti-Jewish racism. They don’t launch major investigations without cause."
But Johnson failed to land a decisive blow over the matter, pivoting from what he called "a complete failure of leadership [...] over antisemitism," to Brexit.
"The failure of leadership is even worse when you look at what is happening on their Brexit policy," the prime minister said.
Corbyn's comments in the debate come just one day after he appeared to suggest that antisemitism was a thing of the past.
Asked during a question and answer session at the CBI Conference: "what are you going to be doing personally to demonstrate you care about racism and antisemitism in society, and show that Labour isn’t just for the many but not the Jew?” Corbyn spoke about racism more widely, including Islamophobia.
"I've spent my life opposing racism in any form, be it done by the far-right or by the random attacks on individuals, or against a man that was murdered outside my house because he happened to be a Muslim and there happened to be a racist person driving a vehicle that thought it was OK to drive in a crowd of worshipers," he said.
"Just as much as those people that attack synagogues, daub fascist graffiti over them, or attack Jewish people in this country, the USA or anywhere else, have no place whatsoever in a civilized society."
He then added: "The history of the Jewish people has been one of the most unbelievable and egregious - [with] attacks on them in central Europe throughout the early part of the 20th century, which of course ended with the Holocaust and all the horrors that went with that."