Communal outrage over 'insulting and absurd' attacks on Lord Austin

Former Labour MP who stood up against Labour racism labelled a racist by Yachad and Corbyn supporting MP


Leading community and anti-racist figures have expressed their outrage over an accusation of racism against Lord Austin, the former Labour MP who resigned from the party over its antisemitism, by left-wing Jewish organisation Yachad and  Labour MP Alex Sobel, who supported Jeremy Corbyn's leadership of the party. 

On Wednesday, Lord Austin tweeted a satirical image of a “terror-misu” ice cream tub, accompanied by the statement: “Ben and Jerry’s have stopped selling ice cream in the West Bank, but they’ve introduced new flavours for Gaza.”

In response, Yachad tweeted: "Living in Gaza does not translate into being a Hamas terrorist. This is a reckless generalisation that feeds into anti-Palestinian racist narratives."
Jewish Labour MP Alex Sobel, a supporter of Jeremy Corbyn during his time as Labour leader, then weighed in with a further accusation of racism: “It’s racist to say all Palestinians are supporters of Hamas. It’s the same racism that says all Jews are supporters of the Kahanists. I’m sure Ian didn’t create it, but he can’t spot racism and also fails to understand International Law which says settlements are illegal.”

But the accusations against one of the leading fighters against racism in the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn, who resigned from the party in 2019 to sit as an independent, prompted fury.

Fiona Sharpe, spokesperson for Labour Against Antisemitism, said: “The attacks on Lord Ian Austin are insulting and absurd. They are nothing more than childish mischief-making.  He is, and always has been, a vocal and courageous campaigner against antisemitism and extremism.  He is a man of integrity who put his principles ahead of his own political career to stand alongside the Jewish community.”

Claudia Mendoza, co-chief executive of the Jewish Leadership Council, said: “It is an over interpretation to claim that Lord Austin's tweet does anything other than highlight that Gaza is under the de facto control of Hamas, a proscribed terrorist group. What doesn't require interpretation is Lord Austin's years of support for the Jewish community which eventually cost him his seat in the House of Commons. We are grateful that Lord Austin continues to be a valued supporter of our community.” 

Ghanem Nuseibeh, the Palestinian chair of Muslims Against Antisemitism, dismissed the allegation, saying Lord Austin “has in no way shown islamophohia in his comment. Accusing him of islamophobia sets a very dangerous precedent and undermines our collective fight against Islamist extremism in general. Whether or not one agrees with his sentiments about the Ben and Jerry affair, he is a key figure in fighting antisemitism and racism in general and we remain strong allies in this.”

Simon Myerson QC, chair of Leeds Jewish Rep Council, also criticised Mr Sobel - whose constituency is Leeds North West - tweeting: "He [Lord Austin] didn’t say that. It references the totalitarians who rule. Not the people who are ruled. Identifying one with the other isn’t accurate (or helpful)." 
Lord Austin himself replied to Mr Sobel: "I did not and never would say "all Palestinians are supporters of Hamas". I said Hamas are terrorists. Their brutal dictatorship controls Gaza. I tried to call him [Mr Sobel] but he refused to speak. He prefers to wind up abuse on twitter."
Joan Ryan, former Labour MP and chair of Labour Friends of Israel, contrasted Lord Austin's standing up to racism while some of those who have attacked him now were silent: "I have seen how hard Ian Austin has worked over many years to get the UK government to support projects to bring Israelis and Palestinians closer together and to improve conditions for people in the Gaza and the West Bank, including most recently his work lobbying the UK Government to support ALLMEP's International Fund for Middle East Peace. And I saw the personal price he paid for standing up to racism in the Labour Party when so many others who are now attacking him were silent."

And Jennifer Gerber, former director of Labour Friends of Israel, tweeted: @LordIanAustin has done a huge amount over the years in supporting groups and projects that bring Israelis and Palestinians together. He’s also been at the forefront of anti-racism campaigning and took a stand when many others remained silent or did nothing. He’s not a racist."

Earlier, Lord Austin had responded to an allegation by the Labour Muslim Network that his tweet was Islamophobic by pointing out: “How is calling the racist terrorist group Hamas, who execute their opponents, make the lives of the citizens of Gaza a misery, treat women terribly, murder gay people and wage war on Israel, terrorists remotely racist?”
“I said Hamas are terrorists. Their brutal dictatorship controls Gaza.”

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