One of Israel’s staunchest supporters in Parliament is at the centre of a row over his appointment of a campaigns and communications manager who appears to be strongly anti-Israel.
Barry Gardiner, MP for Brent North in north-west London and a former vice-chair of Labour Friends of Israel, has appointed Joseph Brown, who declared his “continued dedication to the Palestinian cause” after being pictured at an anti-Israeli demonstration in January.
Synagogues in Mr Gardiner’s constituency reacted with anger. John Brickman, chairman of Kenton Synagogue, said: “It could be that either this man Brown has changed his tune or that Mr Gardiner did not know about his views. But he does know now and it will be very interesting to hear what he has to say.”
Roger Leon, chairman of Wembley Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue, said: “It is regrettable if the person he has chosen for this important post has feelings or views that are not ideal for that post. Why would Mr Gardiner do something like this?”
Earlier this year, Mr Brown was the anti-racism officer for the students’ union at the London School of Economics. After Israel’s action against Hamas in Gaza in January, Mr Brown was pictured taking part in an anti-Israel demonstration, waving a “Free Palestine” placard and wearing a T-shirt adorned with the Palestinian flag.
He had also proposed a motion, passed by 219 votes to 154, calling on the university “not to sit quietly while Israel launches yet another violent assault on the caged and oppressed Palestinian people”.
At the time he said: “I have sent a message to both societies (Jewish and Israel) to meet and reinvigorate the very productive relationship we had last term. I would not like to see that perish because of my continued dedication to the Palestinian cause.”
A students’ union official admitted that complaints had been received about Mr Brown’s behaviour and that “he has made mistakes, to put it mildly. I’m aware students have been made uncomfortable by his conduct”.
But when contacted this week, Mr Brown confirmed his new job but refused further comment.
Mr Gardiner sent one email in response to repeated requests for an interview. He said: “I am investigating the matter and will issue a further statement in due course. You will appreciate that it would be improper to comment further until I have been able to investigate the reports thoroughly.
“I continue to be one of Israel’s strongest supporters in Parliament and am an active member and indeed a former vice-chair of Labour Friends of Israel. I also have a strong record of speaking out against terrorism. All of this remains absolutely unchanged.”
Andrew Gwynne MP, Parliamentary Chair of Labour Friends of Israel, said: “Barry is an active member of LFI and has always been a supporter of Israel. There’s nothing to suggest either his opinions or backing has altered.”