Shadow Justice Minister Richard Burgon should resign or be sacked over incitement against Zionists comments that he made at a Labour Party meeting in 2014 according to a former Labour Party MP.
The Leeds East MP refuted any notion he made such comments on BBC’s Daily Politics show last year but finally admitted his regret after footage discovered by investigative reporter Iggy Ostanin of him making the statements emerged on Tuesday.
Speaking on LBC radio yesterday Independent MP Ian Austin, who left the party due a ‘culture of anti-Semitism’, also said Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was not fit to be Prime Minister after failing as yet to discipline his ally over the incident.
Commenting initially on the Burgon saga, he noted, “To have said this in the first place I think is pretty terrible, then to have been caught out not telling the truth about it, denying it, makes his position completely untenable.
“This is someone who aspires to be in charge of the legal system under the Labour government. I don’t think any previous Labour leader would have tolerated somebody in his position saying that in the first place and then being caught out denying it… Every day brings a new story about the crisis of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party.”
In terms of Corbyn’s leadership, the Dudley North politician was scathing.
“The Labour Party has had a proud tradition of fighting for racial equality, fighting for racism throughout its entire existence,” he explained. “For this to have happened to the Labour Party is absolutely heart-breaking.
“Jeremy Corbyn is completely unfit to be the leader of the Labour Party and certainly unfit to be our country’s Prime Minister.
“A political party, which has alienated so badly a community like the Jewish community, with which it has had a long-standing affinity, to have alienated it so badly, means it does not deserve the support of anybody else.”
Returning to Burgon, he noted, “People often say in politics that the cover up is worse than the crime but they are both pretty bad in this case.
“Zionism is simply the belief in a homeland and self-determination for the Jewish people. To describe that and people who believe in it as “enemies of peace” is a complete disgrace.”
The latest incident blew up after Burgon denied making the comments when questioned by BBC’s Andrew Neil on the popular TV show.
“I didn’t make those comments, I asked when I was meant to have made those comments. No one could tell me and it’s not my view”, he told Neil.
But in a video clip, Burgon can clearly be heard making comments at a Labour meeting.
He said, “The enemy of the Palestinian people is not the Jewish people, the enemy of the Palestinian people are Zionists and Zionism is the enemy of peace and the enemy of the Palestinian people. And we need to be loud, we need to be proud in support of a free Palestine. I make no apologies, I’m proud to say, not only wouldn’t I be a member of Labour Friends of Israel, I’ve never been a member of Labour Friends of Israel.”
Burgon then calls on Labour Friends of Israel MPs to resign in support of the Palestinian people over Gaza.
Jewish leaders have slammed the shadow justice minister over his comments.
Amanda Bowman, Vice-President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, viewed Burgon’s comments as “shameful”.
“Richard Burgon’s denial and the subsequent revelation of his 2014 incitement against Zionists encapsulate the total sham of Labour’s approach to anti-Semitism,” she said. “At the very least he should apologise for his comments and for his denial of them.
“The Jewish community has been consistently gaslighted by the Labour Party and they continue to abdicate their responsibility to deal with antisemitism in their ranks.”
Jonathan Goldstein, Jewish Leadership Council, demanded an apology.
“The language used in politics is more important than ever, especially from someone who seeks to have a leading role in this country’s government,” he said.
“With polling showing that the vast majority of British Jews identify as Zionist, supporting the Jewish people’s right to self-determination, your words are a slur on British Jews and others.”
Ostaninsaid confirmed the footage came before Burgon was elected at the last general election.
“Richard Burgon repeatedly lied to @afneil when he denied saying “Zionism is the enemy of peace”. He said over and over that he wouldn’t have said that because it’s not his view. This video I discovered shows him saying just that in 2014,” she said on social media.
Burgon has since released a statement.
“When it was put to me in August 2016 that I had made these remarks I did not recall doing so and therefore asked for the full quotes to be provided to me, and asked when and where I had said it. I received no reply, so I believed it was inaccurate to have claimed that I had used that phrase. It is now clear that I did and I regret doing so.
“As I have subsequently said on numerous occasions when asked about this, I do not agree with that phrase. I recognise that such a phrase fails to distinguish between those seeking a peaceful solution in line with international law, and those, such as the current Israeli government, which is undermining efforts towards peace.
“The terminology has different meaning to different people and the simplistic language used does not reflect how I now think about this complex issue and I would not use it again today. It is being reported that I made those remarks in 2014, which was before I was elected an MP.
“In the meeting, I was criticising Benjamin Netanyahu’s government and its aggressive expansionist policies. In the video I made it explicitly clear that I was of course not speaking about Jewish people. As I believed then and believe now, when discussing the issue of Israel and Palestine, you must clearly distinguish between the actions of a particular Israeli government and Jewish people as a whole.
“I have always stood in solidarity with the Palestinian people and in opposition to illegal occupation and discrimination and I will continue to do so in the search for a peaceful solution to decades of conflict. It is essential that the Labour movement work with the Israeli and Palestinian people towards achieving a secure Israel and a viable and secure Palestine. I have myself, when I was in Israel, met with Israeli peace and human rights groups and Members of the Israeli Parliament to this effect.”
LFI Director Jennifer Gerber has called on Burgon to apologise after deploying what she termed “half-denials and weasel words” to escape responsibility for his appalling suggestion that Zionism is the enemy of peace.
“Now that we’ve all seen exactly what he said, it’s time for Mr Burgon to apologise both for this slur on the Jewish people’s right to self-determination and for seemingly misleading the public about it,” she noted. “Somebody who aspires to be one of the country’s leading legal figures simply cannot behave in this fashion.”
By Adam Moses