JVL Statement on Richard Burgon MP

Richard Burgon MP. Photo: Wikipedia

Did Richard Burgon lie? Or is the problem that he told the truth?

With a distortion of news values that is shockingly familiar, the mainstream media is making a prime-time mountain out of an antique molehill. Richard Burgon is accused of calling Zionism “the enemy of peace”. And then pretending that he hadn’t said it.

An open and shut case? Well, no.

Here’s the relevant text of what he actually said, at a public meeting in Leeds:

“…..the enemy of the Palestinian people is not the Jewish people. The enemy of the Palestinian people are Zionists, and Zionism is the enemy of peace and the enemy of the Palestinian people…’

But later in the same paragraph he backed up his statement by talking about “what is happening in Gaza now”.   And that is the clue – because ‘now’ was when he was giving that speech, in summer 2014. For 7 weeks the high-tech Israeli army blasted Gaza from land, sea and air in the deceptively-titled Operation Protective Edge. We saw it on our screens night after night. By UN figures over 2000 Gazans were killed, the vast majority of them non-combatants by any definition. More than 10, 000 were wounded, of whom 3000 were children, and more than 1000 of these were left permanently disabled.

‘Zionist’ is not a synonym for Jew. Burgon makes that explicit: it is not the Jewish people who are committing this atrocity, it is the army of an Israeli state that proclaims a colonialist and expansionary Zionist motivation and vision. In pursuit of its aim of establishing and maintaining a state defined by its Jewish character and within which Jews are privileged, Israel has launched a whole series of operations with an ever-increasing number of Palestinian casualties.

The accusation against Burgon disintegrates as soon as the context is revealed – which is presumably why none of the news outlets that have run this story have provided it. But there is more to this story of careless (or worse than careless) news practices. Because this story was broken not in April 2019, but in August 2016 by Joan Ryan MP (still Chair of Labour Friends of Israel despite deserting the party for The Independent Group.)

Three years ago Ryan wrote an open letter accusing him of using those words. In response he asked her, and interrogating journalists, when and where it was that he supposed to have said this, but got no answer from any of them. As he had no recollection of using the quoted words, and since no substantiation was forthcoming, his response gradually hardened into a denial. That was his only mistake – and politicians do make a lot of speeches. He should immediately plead guilty to memory loss, and nothing else.