UK Labour lawmaker calls Israel a fascist state in parliament, then apologizes hours later

World News

(JTA) — A British Labour Party lawmaker apologized hours after calling Israel’s new far-right government “fascist” in parliament on Wednesday in a show of how the party is prioritizing a unified pro-Israel stance after years of antisemitism controversy.

“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. So can the prime minister tell us how he is challenging what Amnesty [International] and other human rights organizations have described as an apartheid state?” said Kim Johnson, who represents a district of Liverpool. She made the comment to British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak during the “Prime Minister’s Questions” session which is held in parliament each Wednesday.

“Well, Mr. Speaker, the honorable lady also failed to mention the horrific attacks on civilians inside Israel as well, and it’s important in this matter to remain calm and urge all sides to strive for peace, and that’s very much what I will do as prime minister and in the conversations that I’ve had with the Israeli prime minister,” Sunak responded.

A few hours later, Johnson spoke up again in the House of Commons.

“I would like to apologize unreservedly for the intemperate language I used during PMQs,” Johnson said while reading from a prepared document. “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. And while there are far-right elements in the government, I recognize that the use of the term in this context was wrong.”

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

Labour leader Keir Starmer has sought to move his party past the years of antisemitism controversy that marked his predecessor Jeremy Corbyn’s tenure. From 2015-2020, Corbyn was accused of allowing antisemitism to fester throughout Labour’s ranks, and multiple prominent Jewish lawmakers left the party.

One of those lawmakers was Louise Ellman, who said in resigning in 2019 that “antisemitism has become mainstream in the Labour party” under Corbyn.

Johnson replaced Ellman as representative of Liverpool Riverside in 2019.

“Kim Johnson’s words were completely unacceptable. Labour sees the relationship with Israel as an important one, and Keir is committed to strengthening that,” a Labour spokesperson said according to the Jewish Chronicle.