Starmer condemns Labour MP’s description of Israeli government as ‘fascist’

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Sir Keir Starmer’s spokesman has condemned Labour MP Kim Johnson’s description of the Israeli government as “fascist”.

It is understood that the party’s chief whip will speak to her about her controversial language during Prime Minister’s Questions.

She will be asked to withdraw her “unacceptable” remarks, Labour leader Sir Keir’s spokesman told reporters.

During PMQs on Wednesday, the Liverpool Riverside MP 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.”

After disquiet from across the Commons, Ms Johnson added: “Can the Prime Minister tell us how he is challenging what Amnesty and other human rights organisations are referring to as an apartheid state?”

“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.”

After the session, the Prime Minister’s spokesman was asked whether Ms Johnson’s language had been appropriate.

The official replied: “No, that’s certainly not the UK Government’s position. The Prime Minister highlighted that the killing of innocent civilians…

“The important thing, as the Prime Minister said, is for people to remain calm and to use moderate language and take an appropriate and considered approach in dealing with what is a very difficult issue.”

Sir Keir’s spokesman denounced the use of both the terms “apartheid” and “fascist”, saying many will have taken offence at the latter in particular.

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

Asked whether Mr Sunak should have condemned Ms Johnson’s language, the spokesman said: “That’s a question for the Prime Minister. 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.”

Benjamin Netanyahu was sworn in as leader of the most right-wing and religiously conservative government in Israel’s history at the end of December.

The region has seen an alarming spike in Israeli-Palestinian violence in recent weeks.

Labour said that, while there are “specific disagreements” in any relationship between countries, the party values a strong working relationship with Israel.

“We obviously see the relationship with Israel as an important one for us bilaterally. We want to have strong relations with the government of Israel,” said the spokesman.

“Obviously there are always issues in any bilateral relationship where you have disagreements between countries, but fundamentally the relationship between Britain and Israel is one that we value.”

He added: “I don’t think using the sort of language that was used in PMQs today is helpful in achieving that.”

Labour MP Dame Margaret Hodge called Ms Johnson’s language “dangerous”.

The veteran former frontbencher, who is Jewish and had relatives who were killed in the Holocaust, tweeted: “This language is unacceptable & dangerous. With violence escalating in recent weeks, this careless remark only makes it harder to bridge the divide.

“Not to mention a complete insult to @LouiseEllman’s legacy.”

Jewish politician Dame Louise Ellman quit Labour in 2019 over antisemitism under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, but rejoined the party in 2021, saying it has a leader in Sir Keir in whom “Britain’s Jews can have trust”.

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