Tory candidate apologises for claiming British Jews return from Israel as 'brainwashed extremists'
A Conservative election candidate has apologised for claiming that British Jews were returning from Israel as "brainwashed extremists".
Amjad Bashir said he no longer held the views he expressed in 2014 and said he planned to meet hold talks with Jewish groups to set out his views.
The Tories had come under pressure to dump Mr Bashir, who is standing for the party in Leeds North East.
Speaking in a European Parliament debate five years ago, the former Ukip MEP said: "Young men are going over from England where I come from - people of the Jewish faith who my grandchildren have grown up with as decent young men.
"But have come back as extremists - as people that are brainwashed. They will not listen to reason. There is something very peculiar and wrong going on in Israel."
His Lib Dem election opponent, Jon Hannah, tweeted: "Is it just me or have the Tories lost the plot?
"Putting an ex-UKIP MEP who talks publicly about how the Israeli state brainwashes English Jews up as a candidate in Leeds North East.
"Repellant anti-semitism. It seems it isn't just Labour with a problem."
In a statement on Monday night, Mr Bashir - who defected from Ukip to the Tories in 2015 - said: "I want to make unambiguously clear that these are not views I hold now. I apologise unreservedly for the comments I made and the distress they have caused within the Jewish community and other groups."
He said he wanted to meet with the Board of Deputies of British Jews, as well as local Jewish groups, so he can apologise in person.
The would-be MP added: "In due course I plan to travel to Israel to meet with members of the community to gain direct experience from the situation on the ground there."
A Conservative spokesman said: “We are clear these comments were not acceptable and Mr. Bashir has rightly apologised unreservedly."
Meanwhile, the Scottish Conservatives have suspended their candidate in Aberdeen North over allegations he made anti-semitic comments.
In a statement on Twitter, he said: "At the age of 20 on an online forum, I took part in a range of political discussions. These included terrorism, LGBT rights and anti-semitism."
He said that in one of the threads he had discussed freedom of speech and he had discussed comments made by Holocaust denier David Irving.
Mr Houghton said that in subsequent posts he had made clear he was not defending the views and strongly opposed Holocaust denial.
He added: "I apologise unreservedly for any hurt now caused by these comments and have been in contact with members of the Jewish community in Aberdeen."
A spokesman for the Scottish Conservatives said: "The comments contained in these blogs are unacceptable and Mr Houghton has been suspended as a member of the Scottish Conservative party as a result.
"The party has also withdrawn its support for his candidacy in Aberdeen North."
Labour peer Lord Dubs said: "As someone who survived the Holocaust, I feel sickened that there will be a Conservative Party candidate on the ballot paper on 12 December who claimed events in the Holocaust were fabricated.
"The Conservatives must face up to their problem with anti-semitism. Instead of using the issue to score political points, they should challenge it in their own ranks."