UK Labour MP apologizes for calling new Israeli government ‘fascist’

Kim Johnson faces fiercest backlash from her own party, which is still struggling to emerge from a massive antisemitism scandal

Labour MP Kim Johnson (David Woolfall- Wikimedia commons CC BY 3.0)
Labour MP Kim Johnson (David Woolfall- Wikimedia commons CC BY 3.0)

A member of the UK Labour Party has apologized in parliament after she called the new Israel government “fascists,” the Guardian newspaper reported.

Kim Johnson, a Labour MP from Liverpool, said in a Wednesday session during which lawmakers posed questions to Conservative Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, “Since the election of the fascist Israeli government last December there has been an increase in human rights violations against Palestinians, including children.

“Can the prime minister tell us how he is challenging what Amnesty and other human rights organizations refer to as an apartheid state,” she asked.

Sunak requested that she show constraint, saying: “It’s important in this matter to remain calm and urge all sides to strive for peace.”

However, Johnson faced a much harsher reaction from her own party, which has been battling to overcome longstanding accusations of antisemitism.

A spokesperson for Labour Party leader Keir Starmer called her remarks “completely unacceptable” and said she would be asked to withdraw them.

Keir Starmer, the leader of Britain’s Labour Party, delivers a speech at the party’s annual conference in Liverpool, England, September 27, 2022. (AP Photo/Jon Super)

Hours later, she did, addressing parliament again and apologizing  “unreservedly” for her “intemperate language.”

“I was wrong to use the term ‘fascist’ in relation to the Israeli government and understand why this was particularly insensitive given the history of the State of Israel,” she said. “While there are far-right elements in the government, I recognize that the use of the term in this context was wrong.”

The report noted that Johnson’s comments came five days after International Holocaust Memorial Day.

“I would also like to apologize for the use of the term ‘apartheid state.’ While I was quoting accurately Amnesty’s description, I recognize this as insensitive and I’d like to withdraw it,” she said.

Israel’s new government includes three far-right factions, including two that have been shunned by previous Israeli governments for their views.

Palestinians and Israelis in the West Bank live under a two-tiered legal system that grants settlers special status and applies much of Israeli law to them, including the right to vote in Israeli elections and the ability to access certain public services. Palestinians live under Israeli military rule and they do not enjoy the legal rights and protections afforded to settlers.

The situation has led three well-known human rights groups, including Amnesty International, to conclude that Israel is committing the international crime of apartheid by systematically denying Palestinians equal rights. Israel rejects those accusations as an attack on its very existence as a Jewish-majority state and points to the achievements of its Arab citizens to counter the argument.

The increasingly authoritarian and unpopular Palestinian Authority, established through agreements with Israel in the 1990s, administers parts of the West Bank, while the Hamas terror group controls the Gaza Strip.

Former Britain’s Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn speaks to the media on the coronavirus, outside the Finsbury Park Jobcentre, in north London, March 15, 2020. (Hollie Adams/PA via AP)

Since succeeding Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader in April 2020, Starmer has sought to reshape the party’s public image by expelling or demoting several of its leading activists and supporters who have either been directly accused of antisemitism or who insisted that Corbyn’s tenure did not lead to a substantive antisemitism controversy.

Labour under Corbyn’s leadership was accused of allowing antisemitism to fester within its ranks, and Corbyn himself was accused of various displays of antisemitism.

A UK government investigation into antisemitism in the party in 2020 found that equality laws were broken and the party under Corbyn was “responsible for unlawful acts of harassment and discrimination.”

Labour suspended Corbyn following his response to the damning report. He had said he didn’t accept all of its findings and asserted that “the scale of the problem was also dramatically overstated for political reasons by our opponents inside and outside the party, as well as by much of the media.”

In 2021, Labour banned four far-left factions as part of an effort to address frustration about the party’s handling of antisemitism. The four factions, known for supporting Corbyn, have been accused of downplaying claims of antisemitism as politically motivated and of condoning inappropriate comments by party members.

Labour, one of Britain’s two main parties, has lost four straight elections, most recently a 2019 drubbing that was its worst performance since the 1930s. Britain has had five Conservative prime ministers since Labour was last in power in 2010: David Cameron, Theresa May, Boris Johnson, Liz Truss, and now Rishi Sunak.

AP contributed to this report

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