EXCLUSIVE: Labour official said during Palestine debate that Jews ‘took over… by a series of genocides’

The party is being urged to investigate the comments made by the chair of the Victoria ward CLP in Hackney


A Labour party official told a Jewish woman during a debate about Palestine that it was a “fact” that the “Jews took over the area by a series of genocides”.

The Labour Party is being urged to investigate the comments made by Penny Vera-sanso, chairwoman of the Victoria ward Constituency Labour Party in Hackney, to Joanna De Guia in a community group chat on Facebook.

Ms De Guia said the comments were indicative of a Labour Party in which many members were still in “denial” about the scale of the problem.

The exchange was sparked by a posting that said before Israel there was “a British mandate, not a Palestinian state” and before that “there was the Ottoman Empire, not a Palestinian state”.

Dr Vera-sanso, Director of Social Anthropology at Birkbeck University, dismissed this as an “appalling argument” and “playing games”.

Librarian Ms De Guia, responded:  “It’s fact.  It’s very far from game playing.”

However Dr Vera-sanso argued: “Picking and choosing btwn (sic) antecedents is game playing.  Some consider the fact to be that Jews took over the area by a series of genocides….”

She went on to share an article with Ms De Guia promoting the argument that “the Jews occupied the land having been told to exterminate the Canaanites”. 

“Here’s an article that gives a sense of the debate,” she added.

Ms De Guia challenged the claim, asking: “I would like to know who are the ‘some’ that consider that ‘fact’…?”

She added it was “irritating” to be “given a history lesson in one’s own history”.

“Generally I felt this was a pretty innocuous post clearing up a misapprehension held by some people about the (non) existence of a Palestinian state, while remembering that Palestinians did indeed live in that part of the world, as did Jews,” she concluded.

Ms De Guia, who ran a children’s bookshop in Hackney, has written about growing up without having Jewish role models in children’s literature.    

She told the JC: “The Labour Party is still in denial.  Constituency Labour Party branches pass motions condemning Israel at almost every meeting. The recent hostilities has given renewed vigour to that type of antisemitism that calls itself anti-Zionism.

“I am a convert to the importance of diversity of opinion because when politics becomes this binary, we really suffer.   There is a lack of humility and no real attempt to understand the complexities of these issues.   A lot of these comments are just very unkind, I just try to deal with them point by point in a rational way.”

Euan Philipps, spokesman for Labour Against Antisemitism, said: “The reported comments by Dr Penny Vera-sanso are antisemitic and should have no place in the Labour Party. 

“It is especially concerning that she is an elected officer of the party and also that she is an educator of young people.   We will be forwarding all the evidence of her comments to Labour HQ and we hope they will take swift disciplinary action.”

The Labour party is understood to be investigating the exchange.

In a separate online debate five years earlier, Dr Vera-Sanso again lectured Ms De Guia about history.

The debate followed the suspension of former London Mayor Ken Livingstone from the Labour Party over his claims about Hitler supporting Zionism.

Dr Vera-sanso shared an article that Livingtone had been “vindicated” in his claims of a link between Zionism and the Nazis.

“Worth reading the full wiki entry” she adds.

Ms De Guia says its “very puzzling and concerning” but is urged by another commentator on Facebook not to trust the source material and posts another article to show “how wrong Ken got it”.

But Dr Vera-Sanso defended the article she shared as “not a bad account” and argued in defence of the widely debunked claims that led to the former London Mayor leaving the Labour party.  

She cited the Haavara Agreement of 1933 as evidence of supposed co-operation between Hitler and the Zionist movement. 

Respected historians have concluded the agreement was actually evidence of the evolution of Nazi thinking on how to ‘rid’ German of its Jewish population. 

Dr Vera-Sanso argued: “It was a secret agreement, undertaken at a time when neither side wanted it known that they were coming to an agreement with each other.”

She adds that “secret deals do happen between opposing sides that seem quite incredible”. 

Dr Vera-Sanso has also shared articles that claimed former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was not antisemitic and was the victim of a “bogus antisemitism smear”.

This included claims by the Corbyn-supporting Canary newspaper that Israel put up a £1m “bounty for Labour insiders to undermine Corbyn”.

The JC contacted Dr Vera-sanso for comment. 

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