Labour MP apologises to Commons after calling Israeli government fascist

<span>Photograph: David Colbran/Alamy</span>
Photograph: David Colbran/Alamy

A Labour MP has apologised to the Commons after provoking anger by calling the Israeli government “fascist” during prime minister’s questions.

Kim Johnson, the MP for Liverpool, Riverside, said on Wednesday afternoon she wanted to retract the comments she had made hours earlier, just five days after Holocaust Memorial Day.

Her apology came after she was summoned to see Labour’s chief whip to explain the comments, which threatened to mire the party in another row over antisemitism.

Johnson said during prime minister’s questions: “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 organisations refer to as an apartheid state?”

In response, Rishi Sunak criticised the tone of her remarks, saying: “It’s important in this matter to remain calm and urge all sides to strive for peace.”

Labour party officials condemned the comments even more strongly as soon as PMQs was over. A spokesperson for the party leader, Keir Starmer, called them “completely unacceptable” and said the chief whip would ask Johnson to withdraw them.

Hours later, Johnson stood up once more in the Commons and apologised “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 recognise that the use of the term in this context was wrong.

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

Starmer has been keen to change the party’s image on antisemitism after years of internal rows on the topic during Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. Johnson won her seat in 2019 after her predecessor, Dame Louise Ellman, resigned over what she saw as the party’s failure to challenge anti-Jewish bigotry among its members.