Labour MPs warned not to ‘stoke tension’ on Israel-Palestine as antisemitism surges

Anti-racism campaigners call for all public figures to show restraint


DUDLEY, ENGLAND - MARCH 08: Richard Burgon, Shadow Secretary of State for Justice and Shadow Lord Chancellor addresses the audience during the last Labour Party Deputy Leadership hustings at Dudley Town Hall on March 08, 2020 in Dudley, England. Ian Murray, Angela Rayner, Richard Burgon, Dr Rosena Allin-Khan and Dawn Butler are vying to become Labour's deputy leader following the departure of Tom Watson, who stood down in November last year. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

Some Labour MPs tweeting “ill-advised and ill-informed” posts on the Israel-Palestine conflict are stoking tensions, campaigners have warned.

Campaigners against antisemitism urged all public figures to show restraint.

The warning came as the Community Security Trust called for all Jewish community centres across the country to step up security as they recorded a "sharp rise in antisemitic incidents in the UK".

On Twitter hashtags including #HitlerWasRight were trending while community groups said more incidents were being reported of abuse being shouted in the streets and Jewish school children being abused by fellow pupils.

Yet scores of Labour MPs came out on Twitter to declare solidarity with Palestine, with some even taking part in demonstrations where protesters held banners comparing Israel to Nazi Germany.

Others called for sanctions against Israel and urged constituents to join them at a mass march to the Israeli Embassy on Saturday which could see tens of thousands of protesters taking to the streets.

Fiona Sharpe, spokeswoman for Labour Against Antisemitism, said: “Some of the social media comments from Labour MPs over the last few days regarding the situation in Israel and Gaza have been ill-advised and ill-informed.  They have a duty to use their platform responsibly and they are failing to uphold that responsibility.

“We would urge all public figures to deploy caution when commenting on what is happening in Israel and Gaza and avoid tweeting anything that could inflame the situation and also endanger the Jewish community here in any way.”

Ian Austin, chairman of the cross-party campaign against extremism Mainstream UK, said: “Conflict in Israel leads to an increase in antisemitism in the UK, both online and in our communities.

“British politicians on all sides should be calling for a de-escalation of violence to avoid yet more bloodshed in Israel and Gaza.

“Instead too many Labour MPs are using social media to stoke tensions when they should be seeking to calm them.”

Labour leader Keir Starmer came under fire on Tuesday for tweeting that “Israel must respect international law” without mentioning Hamas rockets.

He issued a second tweet on Wednesday which echoed the statement from Shadow Foreign Secretary Lisa Nandy and urged both sides to step back from the brink of war.

He condemned both the “air strikes and rocket attacks” and urged the government to act to “de-escalate tensions”.

But while the Labour leader sought to strike a more balanced tone, scores of Labour MPs posted their support for Palestine.

Former Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell said he would be joining a march to the Israeli embassy tomorrow and urged his “Muslim constituents” to join him.

The ‘March for Palestine’ could see tens of thousands take to the streets in London this weekend calling for “an end to Israel’s violations of human rights and international law”.

Coventry South MP Zarah Sultana was among those who joined protestors in a demonstration outside Downing Street on Tuesday night in which demonstrators carried banners comparing Israel to Nazi Germany.

In a tweet following the event, she said: “Today, outside Downing Street, we showed that the Palestinian people will never be alone in their struggle for justice.   We stand in solidarity, today and always. #SaveSheikhJarrah #Free Palestine”.

In a second tweet she posted her “solidarity, love and …prayers to the Palestinian people” and called for an end to the “brutal attacks”.

On Wednesday she re-tweeted a post from US Representative Ilhan Omar which was heavily critical of a White House read-out of US President Joe Biden’s telephone call to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The tweet accused the administration of “siding with an oppressive occupation”.

Senator Marco Rubio accused Ms Omar of being “out of her mind” this week by accusing Israel of an “act of terrorism” after it carried out air strikes against Hamas in the Gaza strip.    The strikes followed a bombardment of hundreds of rockets into Israel targeting both Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

Some Labour MPs sought to justify their support by saying they reflected the concerns of constituents.

Under the hashtag #SaveSheikhJarrah,  Zarah Sultana insisted Palestine was the subject on which she received the most emails.

A tweet from Poplar and Limehouse MP Apsana Begum also stated that Palestine was the issue she had been most contacted about since being elected.

She added: “Poplar and Limehouse is clear: our govt should be holding the Israeli government to account on their actions.”

In a video statement to the Foreign Secretary, Naz Shah, Labour’s Shadow Minister for Community Cohesion, called for sanctions on Israel and declared: “The longest military occupation the world has ever seen must end.”

Richard Burgon, chairman of Labour’s Socialist Campaign Group,  led calls for sanctions against Israel.

He tweeted: “We need action from the British Government to put pressure on Israel to end its illegal occupation of Palestine its colonial settlements and the siege of Gaza.  The Government should ban arms sales to Israel and impose sanctions for Israel’s violations of international law.”

Calling for a ban on arms sales to Israel, Brighton Kemptown MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle tweeted: “The Israeli government wish to be judged as a western democracy; I ask you if any European nation stormed places of worship and killed children at home in the fight against ‘terrorism’ would it be acceptable?

“We’ve an obligation to stand against the aggression of a highly armed state towards an occupied and impoverished one. “

The Campaign Against Antisemitism yesterday called for volunteers to monitor social media amid a huge surge in racist abuse online.

On Wednesday night protesters tried to gain entry to Chelsea football stadium before burning an Israeli flag outside. 

Chelsea is owned by Jewish businessman Roman Abramovich who has championed a drive to rid football of antisemitism.

The CST urged the British Jewish community to remain calm but vigilant and report all incidents to the charity and the police. 


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