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MP Burgon claims he misunderstood the meaning of ‘Zionism’

DEBATE: Labour MPs Angela Rayner, Dr Rosena Allin-Khan, Richard Burgon, Dawn Butler, Ian Austin and host Shelly Rubinstein, centre, at the Jewish Labour Movement’s deputy leadership hustings

BY ADAM CAILLER

LABOUR MP Richard Burgon has, finally, clarified antisemitic remarks in which he called Zionists and Zionism “the enemy of peace and the enemy of the Palestinian people”.

He had denied making the comment in 2014, despite being caught on camera doing so.

During the Jewish Labour Movement’s Labour Party deputy leadership hustings, where he appeared on a panel alongside Labour MPs Angela Rayner, Dr Rosena Allin-Khan, Dawn Butler and Ian Murray, he was asked his thoughts on his understanding of Israel, Zionism and British-Jewish identity.

He said, during the event in central Manchester, which was chaired by JLM’s Shelly Rubinstein: “I was on record before, as an MP, where a recording came out.

“I owe you an explanation of that — it’s important to note that I wouldn’t use that phrase now because it is a crude oversimplification.

“Since then, I’ve been to Israel and ‘Palestine’, and I understand that the phrase Zionist doesn’t just mean (Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu and the people who particularly support him — it means anybody who believes in a State of Israel.

“When I went there, I met Israeli citizens campaigning (for peace).

“I now understand that it is anybody who believes Israel should exist.

“Jewish identity across this country is many and varied and pluralistic.

“There are many different views and political persuasions.”

All five candidates were in agreement that Israel has a right to exist, with Ms Rayner making the point that “it is disgusting to argue this, and it is antisemitic and shouldn’t have any place”.

She said: “It’s not even a negotiable position. We have to enforce that policy, and make sure people understand the two-state solution.

“On British-Jewish identity, our history goes back so far — it’s who we are.

“There shouldn’t be any difference between being British and being Jewish.

“There shouldn’t be a conflict between any of it, and being supportive and proud of Israel is not something that should be in conflict with being British and Jewish.

“Britain is multicultural, and celebrating that is something of which I’m most proud of our country.”

Mr Murray said that Labour members take the “binary” issue of Israel “too far”.

The MP for Edinburgh South said: “Israel is one of our allies. It’s not helped by the current incumbent in the White House.

“We do have to defend, as a Labour Party, what people want as a solution.

“The British-Jewish community is so ingrained in Britain, and it should be celebrated.

“There’s a real ignorance in this country about the Jewish faith and what Jews have brought to this country — it’s something we should celebrate.”

And Ms Butler said that the “younger generation” will make the two-state solution happen.

In four out of the five opening addresses, the candidates all pledged to root out antisemitism, with Mr Murray going a step further to state that he would “resign” if it didn’t happen.

Mr Burgon didn’t mention antisemitism at all in his speech, choosing to focus more on “winning back the heartlands”.

His speech received a less-than-tepid response from the room.

Dr Allin-Khan pledged the Jewish Labour Movement would be her “first official meeting”.

She said: “The last few years have been horrendous. We have become riddled with antisemitism, so much so that doors are being shut in our faces.

“I am deeply, deeply ashamed. If laws have been broken, then justice must prevail.

“I will expel racists, because enough is enough. But I know it will take time for trust to return.

“I will proudly celebrate the 100th anniversary of the affiliation of the Jewish Labour Movement to the Labour Party.

“Despite everything, I hope we can celebrate 100 years of friendship together.

“I know we are allies in the fight against racism, and that together we can defeat it.”

Ms Rayner called the last few years “some of the most difficult for me”.

The MP for Ashton-under-Lyne said: “I’m not proud of the last couple of years.

“People feel frightened of a Labour government getting in. Never, ever should anyone feel unsafe in our party.

“And I want to say that genuinely I am sorry that people have felt that.

“I am ashamed of what has happened, and I want to build that trust again.

“We have to have zero tolerance . . . and if you are antisemitic, you are out.”

Other topics discussed were the role of the party’s National Executive Committee in selecting candidates, and how they would support councillors to deliver the best services for their constituents.

All five candidates had similar messages about “blaming the government”, while simultaneously “promoting the good work of our own councillors”.

Ms Butler, the shadow secretary for women and equalities, said: “We need to start singing from the same hymn sheet.

“If the council is struggling, we take that onto the floor of Parliament to state that the government is forcing our councillors to make these difficult decision.

“It’s vital that we start acting as a Labour family.”

Mr Burgon said: “When a local library closes, it’s important that the party calls for actual fair funding from the government to stop this.

“We shouldn’t be appearing as managers for the cuts.

“It’s not our Labour councillors who are responsible for this.”


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