Labour's Richard Burgon revealed to have lied when he denied saying 'Zionism is the enemy of peace'

Shadow justice secretary condemned by Jewish groups for denying he said it


Labour’s Richard Burgon has been proven to have lied when he denied he had ever said "Zionism is the enemy of peace", as footage of him using these words was exposed.

The shadow justice secretary appeared on the BBC's Daily Politics Show in March 2018 and presenter Andrew Neil asked about a Daily Mail report that claimed he said this.

Mr Burgon insisted repeatedly that he “didn’t say that” and “that’s not my view.”

But investigative journalist Iggy Ostanin has now unearthed footage of the speech Mr Burgon made at a 2014 Labour meeting, where he can clearly be heard telling the audience: “The enemy of the Palestinian people are Zionists and Zionism is the enemy of peace and the enemy of the Palestinian people.”

Jewish groups accused him of "dog-whistle attacks on British Jews" and called the case "shameful".

On the Daily Politics Show last year, the Leeds East MP initially tried to suggest the allegation about his comments had been made only in the Daily Express newspaper – and that the paper has been unable to clarify when he was supposed to have exactly said them.

Mr Burgon, who is one of Mr Corbyn's biggest allies in the shadow cabinet, said that the allegations were “not my view” and that he believed “on occasions like the governments of others countries Israel has been an enemy of peace.”

But Mr Neil then referred to a letter former Labour Friends Of Israel chair Joan Ryan had written to him, asking him to clarify his comments.

The presenter said: “When you replied to her you didn’t deny that you made those comments.”

Mr Burgon responded by saying: “Well I didn’t make those comments.”

He added: ”I was asked when I was meant to have made those comments no one could tell me and it’s not my view.”

As the damning footage of the speech reveals, Mr Burgon also said: “I make no apologies – and I am proud to say not only wouldn’t I be a member of Labour Friends of Israel, I’ve never been a member of Labour Friends Of Israel.”

He urged the audience to check which MPs were LFI members and ask them to “resign in protest at what’s happening in Gaza now”.

Reacting to the latest revelation, LFI Director Jennifer Gerber said: "For nearly two years, Richard Burgon has deployed half-denials and weasel words to escape responsibility for his appalling suggestion that Zionism is the enemy of peace.

"Now that we've all seen exactly what he said, it's time for Mr Burgon to apologise both for this slur on the Jewish people's right to self-determination and for seemingly misleading the public about it.

"Somebody who aspires to be one of the country's leading legal figures simply cannot behave in this fashion."

The JC has approached Mr Burgon for comment.

Jewish Leadership Council Chairman Jonathan Goldstein wrote to Mr Burgon about the video saying: “You denied referring to Zionists as the enemy of peace. Indeed, you went on to say this was not your view and therefore you would not have made those comments.

"Footage of you showing that you did indeed make such comments as recently as 2016 is shocking not just for the content but because of your unequivocal denial. 

"Your assertion that this was not your view appears to indicate that you recognise such comments would not only be factually incorrect and offensive but also risk sowing divisions.”

Board of Deputies Vice-President Amanda Bowman said in a statement: “These comments were shameful. Richard Burgon’s denial and the subsequent revelation of his 2014 incitement against Zionists encapsulate the total sham of Labour’s approach to antisemitism.

“At the very least he should apologise for his comments and for his denial of them. The Jewish community has been consistently gaslighted by the Labour Party and they continue to abdicate their responsibility to deal with antisemitism in their ranks.”

Jewish Labour Movement vice-chair Mike Katz wrote to Mr Burgon and Labour’s chief whip asking for a clarification and apology.

He added: “You can’t play at being Lord Chancellor in waiting whilst making dog-whistle attacks on British Jews and their right, through Zionism, for national self-determination.”

Mr Burgon issued a statement saying he "did not recall" making the remarks when a newspaper had first reported them but added it was "now clear that I did and I regret doing so".

“I did not recall doing so and therefore asked for the full quotes to be provided to me, and asked when and where I had said it. I received no reply, so I believed it was inaccurate to have claimed that I had used that phrase," he said.

“As I have subsequently said on numerous occasions when asked about this, I do not agree with that phrase. I recognise that such a phrase fails to distinguish between those seeking a peaceful solution in line with international law, and those, such as the current Israeli government, which is undermining efforts towards peace.

“The terminology has different meanings to different people and the simplistic language used does not reflect how I now think about this complex issue and I would not use it again today. It is being reported that I made those remarks in 2014, which was before I was elected as an MP.

“In the meeting, I was criticising Benjamin Netanyahu’s government and its aggressive expansionist policies. In the video I made it explicitly clear that I was of course not speaking about Jewish people.

"As I believed then and believe now, when discussing the issue of Israel and Palestine, you must clearly distinguish between the actions of a particular Israeli government and Jewish people as a whole."

He continued: “I have always stood in solidarity with the Palestinian people and in opposition to illegal occupation and discrimination and I will continue to do so in the search for a peaceful solution to decades of conflict.

"It is essential that the Labour movement work with Israeli and Palestinian people towards achieving a secure Israel and a viable and secure Palestine.

"I have myself, when I was in Israel, met with Israeli peace and human rights groups and Members of the Israeli Parliament to this effect.”

Ian Austin, the former Labour MP who now sits as an independent, said: ”Zionism is simply the belief in a homeland and self-determination for the Jewish people.

“To describe that and people who believe in it as enemies of peace is a complete disgrace. That Richard Burgon has not been sacked shows how far the Labour Party has sunk.

“No previous Labour leadership would have put up with someone saying this and being caught out denying it.

“How can someone who wants to be the country's most senior law officer behave like this and not resign? How can his party not sack him? How long will Labour MPs put up with it?”

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