Labour’s Richard Burgon has expressed regret for saying “Zionism is the enemy of peace”, after a video of the comment was circulated online today.
The shadow justice secretary denied making the comment during an interview with the BBC’s Andrew Neil last year.
“I didn’t say that,” he told Neil. “It’s not my view.”
Footage discovered by the investigative reporter Iggy Ostanin shows the Leeds East MP telling an audience: “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,” he 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.”
Exclusive: Richard Burgon repeatedly lied to @afneil when he denied saying “Zionism is the enemy of peace”. He said over and over that he wouldn’t have said that because it’s not his view. This video I discovered shows him saying just that in 2014. Watch the whole thing. pic.twitter.com/RRW1M6yxzz
— Iggy Ostanin (@magnitsky) April 16, 2019
Following criticism, the shadow justice secretary said in a statement to Jewish News: “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.”
Burgon added: “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.
“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.”
This comes after several Jewish organisations condemned the comments and demanded an apology and clarification from Burgon.
Among them, Jonathan Goldstein, chair of the Jewish Leadership Council, said: “With polling showing that the vast majority of British Jews identify as Zionist – supporting the Jewish people’s right to self-determination – your words are a slur on British Jews and others.”
Amanda Bowman, vice-president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, called the comments “shameful”, adding: “Richard Burgon’s denial and the subsequent revelation of his 2014 incitement against Zionists encapsulate the total sham of Labour’s approach to antisemitism.”
Jewish Labour Movement vice-chair Mike Katz said: “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.”