Middle East Eye / February 1, 2023
Kim Johnson says she was also wrong to call Israel an ‘apartheid state’ in a question about the violence in Palestine.
A Labour member of the British parliament apologized on Wednesday for calling Israel an “apartheid” state and the newly elected Israeli government “fascist” during Prime Minister’s Questions, after the Labour Party publicly condemned her.
Kim Johnson made her remarks when she asked Prime Minister Rishi Sunak how he planned to challenge an uptick in Palestinian deaths.
“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,” said Johnson.
“So, can the prime minister tell us how he is challenging what Amnesty and other human rights organizations are referring to as ‘an apartheid state’?”
A total of 35 Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces and Jewish settlers in January, in the deadliest month for Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem since 2015.
Israel’s new Finance minister, Bezalel Smotrich, has described himself as a “fascist homophobe”.
Sunak responded to Johnson’s question by stating that she “failed to mention the horrific attacks on civilians inside Israel, and it is important in this matter to remain calm and urge for all sides to strive for peace”.
But after posing her question, a Labour spokesperson said Johnson’s comments were “completely unacceptable… Labour sees the relationship with Israel as an important one, and [Labour leader] Keir [Starmer] is committed to strengthening that”.
Hours later, Johnson made a point of order in the House of Commons and retracted her question.
“I would like to apologize unreservedly for the intemperate language that I used during PMQs,” said Johnson.
“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 this is insensitive and I’d like to withdraw it.”
In a statement, Amnesty UK said that “leading human rights organizations, UN experts and a growing number of countries” recognized that Israel is operating a “system clearly amounting to the crime of apartheid under international law”.
“While successive UK governments have rightly condemned killings of both Palestinian and Israeli civilians, the UK has abjectly failed to hold the Israeli authorities to account for their grave and systematic breaches of international law stretching back decades,” Amnesty UK said.
Johnson is the Labour MP for Liverpool Riverside and became the city’s first Black parliamentarian when she was elected in 2019.
Before entering parliament Johnson was a trade unionist and is now a member of Labour’s Socialist Campaign Group.
Areeb Ullah is a journalist for Middle East Eye