Labour MP forced to apologise for ‘unacceptable’ Israel comment

Kim Johnson MP - Aaron Chown/PA Wire
Kim Johnson MP - Aaron Chown/PA Wire

A Labour MP has been forced to apologise after calling the Israeli government “fascist” and referring to the country as an “apartheid state”.

Kim Johnson was criticised by party leader Sir Keir Starmer’s spokesman for her comments during Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday lunchtime.

It is understood she was summoned by Labour’s chief whip before returning to Parliament later in the day to apologise for the remarks, which came amid a recent surge in violence in Israel and Palestine.

Speaking in the Commons, Ms Johnson said: “Since the election of the fascist Israeli government in December last year, there has been an increase in human rights violations against Palestinian civilians, including children.

“Can the Prime Minister tell us how he is challenging what Amnesty and other human rights organisations are referring to as an apartheid state?”

Israel accused Amnesty, the human rights group, of anti-Semitism over its claims Palestinians live under apartheid

The new Israeli government led by Benjamin Netanyahu, which took power in December, is regarded as the most hardline in the country’s history.

In his reply, Mr Sunak noted Ms Johnson had “failed to mention the horrific attacks on civilians inside Israel as well” after a gunman killed seven Israelis outside a synagogue last week.

“It is important in this matter to remain calm and urge all sides to strive for peace, and that is very much what I will do as Prime Minister, and in the conversations that I have had with the Israeli prime minister,” he said.

Mr Sunak’s official spokesman said Ms Johnson’s stance was “certainly not the UK Government’s position”, while Sir Keir’s spokesman also condemned the remarks.

“As a first step, we would obviously want her to withdraw the remarks that she used for sure,” the spokesman told reporters.

“All I would say is that if Keir Starmer had been answering that question he would’ve made clear that he regards that language as unacceptable.”

The spokesman added that while all countries had “specific disagreements”, Labour “obviously see the relationship with Israel as an important one for us bilaterally”.

Around two hours later, Ms Johnson returned to the Commons to “apologise unreservedly” for her previous contribution.

“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 the use of the term in this context was wrong… I would also like to apologise for the use of the term ‘apartheid state’.”

In November 2020, Ms Johnson said Jeremy Corbyn’s readmission as a member was a “welcome decision” three weeks after he was expelled. Mr Corbyn, who did not regain the Labour whip, had refused to apologise for downplaying the scale of anti-Semitism in the party.

“A welcome decision to reinstate Jeremy Corbyn,” she wrote on Twitter at the time. “We all need to take responsibility to eliminate all forms of racism from top to bottom!”