EXCLUSIVE: Israel obsession persists at top of Labour, study reveals

The party’s frontbench has tweeted more about Israel in the past 12 months than Yemen, Syria and Iran combined


LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 23: Labour's Brexit spokesman Keir Starmer arrives at the Cabinet office to attend a Cross party Brexit meeting on April 23, 2019 in London, England. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

New research marking tomorrow's first anniversary of the damning EHRC report on Labour antisemitism has revealed that the highest echelons of the party remain obsessed with Israel and tweet about it more than they do on the horrors unfolding in Yemen, Syria and Iran combined.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer is facing calls to act after an analysis of frontbenchers’ Twitter activity over the past 12 months showed that shadow ministers posted or shared 832 tweets about Israel and the Palestinians compared to 674 on Iran, Yemen and Syria.

The study, by anti-extremism group Mainstream UK, also showed that the number of frontbench tweets about Israel and the Palestinians was more than twice the number of posts about Russia (293) and almost twice the number about China (483).

Only Afghanistan provoked more posts after Britain and the US ended their 20-year military presence in August, fuelling a humanitarian crisis as thousands sought to flee the country in now in the hands of the Taliban.

Mainstream said the individual posts, while not antisemitic in themselves, showed an ongoing obsession with Israel that was not confined to the hard-left of the Labour Party and set the tiny country apart from any one of more than 200 other territorial conflicts across the world.

According to the international definition of antisemitism adopted by Labour, holding Israel to standards “not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation” could be seen as antisemitic.

The 11-day conflict between Israel and Gaza in May dominated social media postings from Labour’s frontbench. The debate over Covid vaccines for Gaza was also prominent but there were only a handful of tweets celebrating the success of Israel’s early vaccine rollout, despite the lessons Britain could learn from the programme.

In April, Israel suffered the worst civil disaster in its history as a deadly crowd crush occurred at Meron during the annual pilgrimage to the tomb of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. Forty five adults and children were killed and more than 150 injured. The tragedy was headline news around the world but elicited just six tweets from the Labour frontbench.

Following a summer that saw Labour’s ruling NEC proscribe four hardleft factions and purge hundreds from the party, Sir Keir told Labour conference last month the party had “closed the door” on the antisemitism crisis which took hold under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership.

Critics said the declaration was far too premature and the party had a long way to go before it could restore trust with the British Jewish community.

Mainstream’s research comes in the week in which Labour marks the first anniversary of the publication of the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s damning findings into the antisemitism crisis.

The party was found to have broken equality law and a two-year action plan was ordered to bring in reform of how antisemitism complaints were handled.

The new research also follows a motion passed overwhelmingly at Labour’s conference that accused Israel of perpetrating an “ongoing Nakba in Palestine” and branded the country an apartheid state. The delegate who moved the motion made a speech in which he compared Israel to the military dictatorship in Spain.

The Labour Party has been contacted for comment.

Who is saying what: A year of frontbench tweeting about a certain Middle-East country

During the 11-day conflict in May, Labour politicians were urged by anti-racism campaigners not to stoke divisions amid a surge in antisemitic abuse both online and in the streets in Britain.

Mainstream’s analysis shows that while many frontbenchers used their tweets to condemn violence on both sides, others condemned Israel and posted regular tallies of the Palestinian ‘death toll’. Some of the language used was highly emotive, with Israel being accused of “apartheid”, of being “inhumane” and committing “systemic injustice” and “brutal crimes against humanity”.

On 19 May, Labour’s Shadow Railways Minister Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi posted: “Nub of #Israel #Palestine issue is colonial-era mindset of a gradual land grab, forced evictions, shameless flouting of international law, suppression and humiliation of a people. But need now is immediate end to bloodshed and deliver aid to those in inhumanely blockaded #Gaza.”

The post was re-tweeted on 6 June by Shadow Community Cohesion Minister Naz Shah, who was briefly suspended and given a formal warning in 2016 for sharing an antisemitic post in “ignorance”.

On 14 May, Ms Shah shared a tweet from @hzomlot that included the hashtag #ApartheidIsrael.

The tweet said: “What I hear from our people in Gaza is horrific. Israel’s aggression is beyond barbaric and must stop immediately!”

On 13 May, Shadow Bus Minister Sam Tarry posted that more than 80 people had been killed in the “devastating siege of #Gaza” with “promises of further air strikes and a possible ground invasion by Israel’s military”.

He added: “The UK government must urgently call on the Netanyahu administration to end its bombardment and to stop further bloodshed.” The tweet made no mention of a bombardment of rockets by Hamas into Israeli cities.

On 18 May, Marsha de Cordova, MP for Battersea, re-tweeted a post from Al Jazeera English which included the death and injury tally of Palestinians since the “Israeli bombardment began”. There was no corresponding information about the death and injuries in Israel.

On the same day she shared a post from Unite International that expressed “solidarity with Palestinians on general strike ... protesting at massacres committed by Israel in #Gaza”. It included the hashtags: #FreePalestine #GazaUnderAttack. At the time of the posts, Ms de Cordova was the Shadow Equalities Minister, she resigned in September 2021. The resignation was unconnected to the tweets about Gaza.

Shadow Higher Education Minister Matt Western tweeted on 12 May: “Israeli air strikes have now killed 50+ Palestinians (14 children) and fasting worshippers were terrorised at the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Int. law is again being broken and Israel must halt provocations and forced evictions in E. Jerusalem. We need urgent de-escalation. #SheikhJarrah.”

Rosena Allin-Khan is Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Mental Health. On 11 May, she posted: “Palestinian children have been killed by Israeli air strikes on Gaza. Enough is enough. Verbal condemnation is not sufficient. How many more children must die before world leaders collectively do something to stop this atrocity?”

On 14 May, Labour’s Shadow Deputy Leader Afzal Khan posted: “I’ll be speaking at the Manchester #Nakba73 commemoration tomorrow afternoon …. The UK government must take urgent action against Israel’s assault on the besieged Gaza Strip and its brutal crimes against humanity. The killing of civilians needs to end #ExistResistReturn”

On 16 February, Shadow Justice Secretary Alex Cunningham shared a tweet from former Labour MP Richard Burden stating that the Knesset was debating the issue. It added: “That it should even be treated as a matter for debate is horrifying.”

A second post from Mr Burden re-tweeted by the frontbencher the same day said: “Awaiting for a political decision. A political decision on a health emergency. Grotesque.”


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