Senior shadow minister faces calls to apologise after video reveals 'Zionism is enemy of peace' comments he previously denied

Richard Burgon, the shadow justice secretary, insisted last year: 'I didn't make those comments...It's not my view and if it's not my view I wouldn't have made those comments'

Benjamin Kentish
Political Correspondent
Tuesday 16 April 2019 15:18
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Richard Burgon denies he claimed Zionists were 'enemy of Palestinian people and enemy of peace'

Labour shadow cabinet minister Richard Burgon is facing calls to apologise after footage emerged of him claiming that "Zionism is the enemy of peace" - a comment he had previously denied making.

Asked about the reported claims last year, the shadow justice secretary told the BBC that it "was not my view" and that the reports were false, adding: "I didn't make those comments."

But footage has now emerged showing that the Jeremy Corbyn ally did indeed make the claims at an event in 2014.

He said: "The enemy of the Palestinian people is not the Jewish people, the enemy of the Palestinian people are Zionists and Zionism is the enemy of peace and the enemy of the Palestinian people.

"We need to be loud, we need to be proud in support of a free Palestine."

In another speech, in 2016, he said: "False accusations fly as soon as you support the people of Palestine and I myself was accused of a false and outrageous slander by a very well-connected supporter of the Israeli government."

The revelation prompted anger from Jewish community groups, who called on Mr Burgon to apologise.

Amanda Bowman, vice president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, said: "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."

And in a letter to Mr Burgon, Jewish Leadership Council chair Jonathan Goldstein asked the MP to issue "a full apology and a clarification as well as a pledge to use responsible language henceforth".

He wrote: "In your interview with [BBC journalist] Andrew Neil last year, you denied referring to Zionists as the enemy of peace. Indeed, you went on to say that 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. You 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.

He added: "The language used in politics is more important than ever, especially from someone who seeks to have a leading role in this country's government. With polling showing that the vast majority of British Jews identify as Zionists - supporting the Jewish people's right to self-determination - your words are a slur on British Jews and others."

Following the emergence of the footage, Mr Neil wrote on Twitter: "Wish I'd had that clip from 2014 when I interviewed Mr Burgon."

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During an interview last year, the MP had told him: "I didn't make those comments...It's not my view and if it's not my view I wouldn't have made those comments."

Responding to the latest row, Mr Burgon expressed "regret" for claiming that he had not made the comments.

He said: “When it was put to me in August 2016 that I had made these remarks 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. It is now clear that I did and I regret doing so.

“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."

He added: “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."

The MP said he was criticising the "aggressive expansionist policies" of Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government and not speaking about Jewish people.

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