Labour asked to withdraw anti-Zionist MPs
● Board of Deputies asks Labour Party to withdraw conspiracy-theory MPs from poll
The Board of Deputies has asked the Labour Party to consider whether two anti-Zionist MPs should be withdrawn as candidates following comments warning voters about the alleged influence of the "Israel lobby" on the UK election.
The unprecedented intervention from the Board follows comments from Martin Linton and Sir Gerald Kaufman last month at a meeting in Parliament held by Friends of Al-Aqsa to discuss Israeli house demolitions.
Mr Linton, MP for Battersea and chair of Labour Friends of Palestine, has since apologised for describing the "long tentacles of Israel" reaching into British politics.
The Battersea MP said he was sorry for any offence but maintained he was not aware of the antisemitic precedents for the image of a Jewish octopus stretching around the world.
Gerald Kaufman: Labour Party distanced itself from the MP’s remarks
In a statement to the JC, Mr Linton said: "I'm sorry if a word I used caused unintended offence because of connotations of which I was unaware, but completely understand and sympathise with."
Sir Gerald, MP for Manchester Gorton, has so far not apologised for likening the influence of prominent Jewish Conservative funders to that of controversial Tory peer Michael Ashcroft. "Just as Lord Ashcroft owns most of the Conservative Party, right-wing Jewish millionaires own the rest," he told the meeting. Board president Vivian Wineman said: "We note that Mr Linton has apologised but we are surprised that, as a seasoned politician, he was not aware of the antisemitic nature of his remarks. Gerald Kaufman's reference to ring-wing millionaires plays to traditional antisemitic stereotypes and is unacceptable.
"We are raising this with the Labour Party. We think it should consider their suitability as candidates."
As the JC reported last week, Mr Linton told the meeting on March 23: "There are long tentacles of Israel in this country who are funding election campaigns and putting money into the British political system for their own ends."
He added: "You must consider over the next few weeks, when you make decisions about how you vote and how you advise constituents to vote, you must make them aware of the attempt by Israelis and by pro-Israelis to influence the election."
When the comments first came to light in the JC, Mr Linton initially said he did not recognise the "tentacles" remarks as his own. His words can be heard at thejc.com.
He now says he was unaware of the possible antisemitic associations of his "tentacles" comments. But he said he stood by his warnings about the influence of the pro-Israel lobby on British politics. His statement continued: "On the substantial issue I was echoing the findings of a recent Channel 4 programme on political donations and lobbying, which has recently been cleared of bias by the broadcasting regulator Ofcom.
"I set up Labour Friends of Palestine after visiting the West Bank and seeing that there is a highly effective lobby for Israel but no equivalent lobby for Palestinians in the Labour Party. I hope one day Channel 4 will have cause to do a programme on the effectiveness of our lobby.
"I hope the JC will now get back to discussing the issue of the meeting on March 23, which was the eviction of Palestinian communities from what is and always has been and always should be the shared capital city of Israelis and Palestinians".
The image of Jewish financial tentacles has a long and shameful history. One cover of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion portrayed octopus tentacles interwoven with the Star of David. A notorious cartoon of an octopus straddling the globe was also used in the Nazi newspaper Der Sturmer in the 1930s. It can also be seen in British antisemitic portrayals of the Rothschild banking family in the 19th century.
Danny Stone, director of the all-Party Parliamentary Group Against Antisemitism, said: "It is shameful to see members of Parliament using classic conspiracy theory language. Both the Labour Party and the Conservative Party have previously indicated to us their intentions to crack down on any and all racist language or behaviour - I hope we will see swift action taken."
Stuart Polak, director of the Conservative Friends of Israel, said: "These comments are as ignorant as they are preposterous. The MPs' records on the Israeli/Palestinian issues are one-sided and not balanced and therefore cannot remotely be taken seriously.''
The Labour Party has yet to say what measures, if any, will be taken to discipline Mr Linton or Sir Gerald, but a spokesman distanced the party from the remarks. He said: "These alleged comments are not the view of the Labour Party."
At the same time the Labour Party stepped up criticism of David Cameron for sitting beside "xenophobes and
homophobes" in Europe- a reference to his alliance with Polish, Czech and Latvian politicians in the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) grouping in the European Parliament. On Wednesday Lord Mandelson used a gathering of the New Labour organisation Progress to challenge Mr Cameron's record in Europe, where he has rejected an alliance with Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel in favour of the ECR, led by the controversial Polish politician Michal Kaminski.
The former Czech prime minister Mirek Topolanek resigned last week as chair of the Civic Democratic Party, part of the ECR, after making derogatory comments about Jews and gays.
Labour MP Denis MacShane, who chairs the parliamentary group said: "I condemned in the Commons this week populist nationalist politicians in the Czech Republic, Poland and Latvia allied to the Conservatives, but I have always believed that David Cameron is pro-Jewish and pro-Israel, as indeed is Gordon Brown.
"One or two loose remarks should not be used to make the issue of antisemitism an issue in the election, when it is certainly not. After the election those of us concerned about antisemitism need to make sure the next government focuses on this evil, and supports the Council of Europe's recent declaration condemning 'antisemitic, anti-Zionist and anti-Israel prejudice'."
In February the Chair of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission Trevor Phillips wrote to all three major parties reminding them of their "responsibility to promote good relations and to work towards the elimination of prejudice, hatred and hostility".
Mr Phillips asked for an assurance that all complaints would be addressed within 24 hours.