MPs clashed on Thursday over a motion to designate all of Hezbollah as a terrorist group, as opposed to just its armed wing.

Both Labour and Conservative parliamentarians led calls for the whole group to be proscribed, something the Home Secretary, Amber Rudd can do. Despite the fact that Labour MPs were asked not to support by their leadership, it was Labour Friends of Israel chair Joan Ryan who secured the debate and several from the Labour benches who spoke out.

The motion was introduced by Democratic Unionist Party MP Jim Shannon, Labour Friends of Israel (LFI) chair Joan Ryan MP, and LFI vice-chair Louise Ellman MP, with support from pro-Israel groups.

In a poorly-attended debate, Ryan said Hezbollah was a “terrorist organisation driven by an anti-Semitic ideology that seeks the destruction of Israel” and that Hezbollah itself does not distinguish between its armed wing – currently proscribed by the UK – and its political wing, currently not proscribed. She said the distinction made by the UK was “utterly bogus”.

Ian Austin criticised Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn for his historical remark, calling Hezbollah ‘friends’. The Dudley North MP told the Commons: “In 2009 at a meeting of the so-called Stop the War Coalition, which actually must be, I think, probably the worst or most inappropriately named organisation in British politics, the leader of the Labour Party said that he invited ‘friends from Hamas and Hezbollah to an event in Parliament’.

“Later, when asked why he had called them friends, he said ‘I use it in a collective way, saying our friends are prepared to talk’.

“And he said there is not going to be a peace process unless there is talks involving Israel, Hezbollah and Hamas.

“Firstly, who would describe a racist, vicious and terrorist organisation like Hezbollah as friends? Who would do that?

“I think social democrats, indeed all democrats, should always be crystal clear about describing totalitarian movements and governments, whether that’s Hezbollah or, for instance, the Iranian dictatorship which backs Hezbollah.”

He said statements by the Hezbollah leadership made it clear they had absolutely no interest in the peace process.

Hezbollah politicians have made up a significant element of Lebanon’s government in the past decade, and diplomats worry that proscribing the whole group would make diplomatic relations difficult.

John Spellar, MP for Warely, added that Hezbollah “does not have separate wings but is one criminal terrorist entity”, which Jewish MP Louise Ellmann backed, saying: “Hezbollah itself does not accept this distinction. In 2012, its deputy secretary general, Naim Qassem, said very explicitly: “We don’t have a military wing and a political one; we don’t have Hezbollah on one hand and the resistance party on the other.”

She said that “the evidence that Hezbollah engages in terrorism and engenders hate is overwhelming”, adding that “Hezbollah specifically promotes anti-Semitism. Al-Manar, Hezbollah TV, was the first media outlet to make the false claim that 4,000 Jews or Israelis did not go to work in the World Trade Centre on 9/11, allegedly on the basis of advice from Mossad. This lie has now become a widespread anti-Semitic libel. Hezbollah’s message incites violence.”

Tom Tugendhat, chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, asked whether it was possible to conduct relations with the Lebanese government “and still call out this group for what it is”.

Ryan argued that Hezbollah is banned in its entirety around the world, including by the Arab League, the United States and France, with the Obama administration describing it as the “most sophisticated terrorist group in the world”.

Following the debate, Joan Ryan told the Jewish News: “It is deeply disappointing that the government has yet again refused to act decisively against Hezbollah. We will continue to campaign vigorously on this issue. This antisemitic terror group, which seeks to destroy Israel and has wreaked death and destruction throughout the Middle East, should have no hiding place. Sadly, the UK continues to provide it with one.”

Christians United for Israel (CUFI) garnered 16,000 online signatures for a petition, which read: “Enough is enough. If Britain is to genuinely say no to terror then all terrorist organisations must be banned without compromise.”

Writing in The Telegraph, former Israeli ambassador to the UK Ron Prosor said: “For years, Hezbollah has gained freedom to operate in Europe and elsewhere by separating itself – on paper – into ‘political’ and ‘military’ wings. The military wing carries out murder and violence; the political wing funds and supports this work… The two wings are symbiotic.”

Tom Tugendhat, chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, asked whether it was possible to conduct relations with the Lebanese government “and still call out this group for what it is”.

Tory Theresa Villiers, the MP for Chipping Barnet, spoke during the debate, acknowledging that her constituents had registered their thoughts, said “Hezbollah poses a serious threat to the citizens of the UK.”

She also mentioned a Jewish News poll, published yesterday, in which we revealed that Britons support a full Hezbollah ban by four to one – the ComRes poll reveals 81 percent of those who took a view wanted the government to take action.

Villiers added that the annual Al-Quds Day March through central London was “a scandal,” because anti-Israel protesters can legitimately wave Hezbollah flags, claiming they only support the political wing. “It is an embarrassment,” she said. “They’re laughing at us.”

However, in a briefing to Labour MPs earlier in the day, Labour’s leadership said: “There is a balance between making absolutely clear our abhorrence of using violence to achieve political ends and at the same time encouraging organisations down an effective democratic path.”

It added: “Full proscription could be a move against dialogue and meaningful peace negotiations in the Middle East.”