John Woodcock: I once held 'ill-informed, small-level prejudice' against Israel

The new peer, who fought antisemitism as an MP under Corbyn, says visiting Israel totally changed his perspective


The former MP John Woodcock – now ennobled as Lord Walney – has admitted once holding an “ill-informed, small-level prejudice” against Israel.

The new peer, previously a vociferous campaigner against antisemitism in Labour under Jeremy Corbyn, said a visit to Israel as part of a delegation organised by the Union of Jewish Students made him understand its “geographical vulnerability”, prompting him to change his view of the country.

In what he said was a “candid” admission, the UK Special Envoy for Countering Violent Extremism admitted: “I was one of the people who had a lazy, ill-informed, and I guess small level prejudice against the nation of Israel.

“I had this ill-thought-out sense of Israel as being the powerful, unfair aggressors to their neighbours.

“I remember being a student and thinking ‘I can’t believe they are so mean to the Palestinians, they should know better.’

“It really wasn’t based on anything particular. The sea change came in terms of me being able to visit Israel.”

Lord Walney praised the role of the UJS in allowing him to see for his own eyes - while he was working for the Labour Students Organisation - how Israel existed alongside often aggressive, unfriendly neighbours.

He said the visit meant he was “able to go to the Middle East and see for my own eyes the geographical vulnerability of Israel.

“Talking to ordinary Israelis you realise how this is ignored and misrepresented by Western media. In a way that probably does filter into antisemitic prejudices.”

In conversation with Danny Stone, director of the Antisemitism Policy Trust, Lord Walney said the visit to Israel left him becoming “more switched on to the issue of antisemitism.”

He recalled attending the NUS national conference in 2002, after he went on to work for the Labour Students organisation, and the abuse Luciana Berger revealed she had received during a speech while she was a student leader.

Lord Walney went on to become the chair of Labour Friends of Israel and said he realised the Jewish state was constantly held to different standards than any other nation in the world.

This was “rooted in viewing Jewish people differently,” he said.

On the former Labour leader himself, the former Barrow MP said over time too many of his “actions and views expressed were clearly antisemitic.”

Having quit Labour to sit as  an independent MP, Lord Walney was nominated for a life peerage in the 2019 Dissolution Honours, along with four other former Labour MPs who had backed Boris Johnson's Brexit deal or endorsed the Conservatives in the election.

He was created Baron Walney, of the Isle of Walney in the County of Cumbria, and will sit as a non-affiliated life peer.

Speaking about the first few days of his time in the Lords, he said: “It does feel different. The tone in here, it all feels very revered. In terms of the tone of the debate – it’s a lot more considered and polite.”



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