By Bradley Bernard
Chief Leader Writer
WHEN can we call a spade a spade?
When a nation’s Finance Minister calls himself a “fascist homophobe”, perhaps?
When said country elects the most right-wing coalition it its history, which includes a Kahanist party?
Or how about when one of the world’s leading human rights organisations does label a country as such?
For Sir Keir Starmer’s Labour Party, it’s not enough.
Left-wing MP Kim Johnson was this week forced into a grovelling apology for suggesting Israel’s government was “fascist” during Prime Minister’s Questions.
Party officials were soon briefing that her comments were “absolutely unacceptable”, with reports suggesting she had to make her case in front of the chief whip.
“I would like to apologise unreservedly for the intemperate language that I used during PMQs,” Johnson later said.
“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 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 is insensitive and I’d like to withdraw it.”
And it’s this last line which is particularly disturbing, from a free speech perspective if nothing else.
While, as above, one of the nation’s ministers labelled himself a fascist and the government is undeniably far-right, Amnesty International has literally called Israel an “apartheid state”.
In a statement after the incident, Amnesty UK said that “leading human rights organisations, UN experts and a growing number of countries” recognised 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,” they added, calling on both Starmer and the Prime Minister to read their report into human rights violations in the region.
Language is important, of course. One can see why the term “fascist” may be, if delivered with a certain malice or with ill intention, be “insensitive”, as Johnson puts it.
But her comments were not racist, nor discriminatory, nor delivered with any evil intention towards any minority. She was describing a far-right government.
Over in the US, House Republicans are using Ilhan Omar’s criticisms of Israel to remove her from the Foreign Affairs Committee.
There, Democrats are at least defending their fellow member against these accusations.
In power, will Labour have the guts to stand up for Palestinians, or be too fearful of the backlash and potential accusations levelled at Jeremy Corbyn?
Labour seem too focused on trying to banish the spectre of the leader’s predecessor to see the wood for the trees.
Featured Image: Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
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