Richard Burgon expresses ‘regret’ at branding Zionism ‘the enemy of peace’ following backlash

Posted On: 
16th April 2019

Labour frontbencher Richard Burgon has said he “regrets” calling Zionism "the enemy of peace" after recently-unearthed footage contradicted his previous denial of the comments.

Richard Burgon
Credit: 
PA Images

The Shadow Justice Secretary told the BBC’s Daily Politics last year that he had not made the claim, which was reported by the Daily Mail in 2016.

He told the broadcaster in March 2018: “I was asked [by the Daily Mail] at which meeting I was meant to have said that and they couldn’t respond to me. I didn’t say that and they couldn’t tell me when they believed I had said that - it's not my view..."

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However, footage put on Twitter by journalist Iggy Ostanin shows Mr Burgon telling a party meeting in 2014: “The enemy of the Palestinian people are Zionists and Zionism is the enemy of peace and the enemy of the Palestinian people.”

The claim sparked condemnation from Labour Friends of Israel chair Jennifer Gerber, who this morning called on 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”.

In a statement on Tuesday afternoon, Mr Burgon said while he had initially believed the newspaper’s report to be “inaccurate” it was “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,” he said.

“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.”

Mr Burgon went on to insist that he was taking aim at the Israeli government and its “aggressive expansionist policies”.

"In the video I made it explicitly clear that I was of course not speaking about Jewish people,” he continued.

"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."

'SHAMEFUL'

The Labour frontbencher has meanwhile come under renewed fire from Jewish community groups over the comments.

Amanda Bowman, vice-president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, said: “These comments were shameful.

"Burgon’s denial and the revelation of his 2014 incitement against Zionists encapsulate the total sham of Labour’s approach to anti-Semitism."

Mike Katz, chairman of the Jewish Labour Movement meanwhile said: "You cannot play at being a Lord Chancellor-in-waiting while making dog-whistle attacks on British Jews and their right, through Zionism, for national self-determination."