Labour frontbencher Richard Burgon expresses regret over ‘Zionism’ comments
Shadow cabinet minister Richard Burgon has said he regrets saying that “Zionism is the enemy of peace”.
The frontbencher, an ally of Jeremy Corbyn, had previously denied making the remarks, but acknowledged “It is now clear that I did and I regret doing so”.
After footage from 2014 emerged showing Mr Burgon saying “Zionism is the enemy of peace and the enemy of the Palestinian people”, the senior Labour MP said “I do not agree with that phrase” and he would not use it now.
He said that when he was first challenged over the comments in 2016, he “did not recall” making the remarks and asked for further details.
He said: “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.”
He added: “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.
“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 Leeds East MP had faced calls to apologise from the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Jewish Leadership Council.
Amanda Bowman, vice president of the Board of Deputies, 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 anti-Semitism.
“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 anti-Semitism in their ranks.”
The footage of Mr Burgon’s comments, from 2014, was unearthed by investigative reporter Iggy Ostanin.
Mr Burgon is shown saying: “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.”
Jewish Leadership Council chairman Jonathan Goldstein challenged Mr Burgon to issue a “full apology and a clarification as well as a pledge to use responsible language henceforth”.
Mr Burgon said: ““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.
“I have always stood in solidarity with the Palestinian people and in opposition to illegal occupation and discrimination and I will continue to do so in the search for a peaceful solution to decades of conflict.”