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

Richard Burgon MP. Photo: Wikipedia

JVL Statement on Richard Burgon MP

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.

Comments (20)

  • Alasdair MacVarish says:

    Little doubt among all serious historians such as Ilan Pappe and Avi Schlaim that Zionism is the ideology of an aggressive colonial-settler movement and seeks territorial expansion above all

  • Richard Hayward says:

    Thank you, JVL, for putting this latest scam into context.

    What concerns me is the habit of apologising for perfectly justifiable statements, and thus feeding the political venality of the BoD nexus and its attempts to recruit the notion of ‘antisemitism’ for devious sectarian ends..

  • Alfie B says:

    If someon asked me everything I said about Israel during that endless onslaught in 2014, I wouldn’t remember any words, only outrage and disbelief that civilised people would
    still be doing this to other humans. That fragment of what he said means nothing out of context. It needs the preceding sentence and the context to be understood, The witch hunters can’t be stupid enough not to know that. This ismjust another cynical attempt to detroy a decent socialist’s reputation.

  • nonetheless he should not have denied it outright, especially as it is true. The important thing about this is the climate of political terrorism engendered by the Zionists and the JLM in particular

  • Dr Paul says:

    Burgon said: ‘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. We need to be loud, we need to be proud in support of a free Palestine.’

    Yet this is transmuted by the JLM’s Mike Katz into a case of anti-Semitism — that is, hatred of Jews — by way of his (Katz’s) identifying a political philosophy, Zionism, with an ethnic/religious group, Jews. Burgon’s specific denial that ‘the Jewish people’ are ‘the enemy’ of ‘the Palestinian people’, as he puts it, is for Katz of no account.

    If we extend Katz’s principle to other political philosophies and ethnic groups associated with them, then, logically, criticising Indian nationalism equals holding a racist attitude towards Indian people, criticising Scottish nationalism equals holding a racist attitude towards Scottish people, and so on ad infinitum. Does my rejection of British nationalism makes me an anti-British racist, in my case a self-hating Briton? What nonsense. Katz’s principle, if extended, would make politics practically impossible.

    When real anti-Semitism — hatred of Jews, prejudice against Jews, conspiracy theories about Jews — is on the rise, mostly on the far-right, Katz’s sort of shenanigans do absolutely nothing to assist the fight against this prejudice, and indeed make a mockery of it.

    A final thought: does not Katz’s identification of Jews with Zionism, that is, identifying an ethnic/religious group with a political philosophy, fall foul of one of the IHRA definitions?

  • C.J. says:

    He would have had difficulty, as any rational being would, in recollecting anything which he said the could be conceived of as, “antisemitic”…

  • Percy de Florette says:

    As soon as Labour politicians say the indefensible you lot jump in with denial and obfuscation.
    You are the masters of spin and verbosity bordering on the fatuous.
    Long after you have been placed on the dustbin of history The Jewish State , the only safe harbour for Jews, will survive and flourish

  • Dominic St John says:

    I am outraged that you only demonise Israel and ignore condemnation of right wing regimes around the world.You are the masters of hypocrisy and mendacious manipulators.
    By only concentrating on Israel does in fact point to your inherent anti Semitic views.
    Have you ever condemned for example Shariah Law or Turkey for human rights violations??

  • I found Mr. Burgon’s statements to be euphemistic, compassionate, kind and forgiving whilst pointing out a few home truths about the Zionist creed. I think he deserves even a medal for his restraint over this troublesome issue.

  • Sabes Sugunasabesan says:

    Thank you. Deliberate misrepresentations should be put right. Recently by confusing definitions of antisemitism and stance against Zionism our intelligence has been tested. It is an attempt to shut up any objection to Zionist strategies against Palestinian people. Enough.

  • Jim Denham says:

    “serious historians such as Ilan Pappe and Avi Schlaim”: err, no: charlatans both.

    BTW: you’re confusing the fact that you *agree* with what Burgon said with the fact that he later lied about it.

  • Richard Kuper says:

    I’ve seen Ilan Pappé’s credentials as a serious historian queried before now, though I think this is largely because people can’t abide his analysis of 1948 as ethnic cleansing.

    Calling Avi Shlaim’s into question really is a first, so hat’s off to Jim Denham for standing out on a lonely limb.

    Avi Shlaim, for those who don’t know, is professor emeritus of international relations at St Antony’s College, Oxford University – well known, in Denham’s imaginary world I guess, for giving credence to charlatans. He is the author of The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World and The Politics of Partition: King Abdullah, the Zionists, and Palestine, 1921-1951 among other works – but these two are generally regarded as exemplary and path-breaking works.But Jim Denham clearly knows better and “charlatan” trips lightly off his informed tongue.

    The JVL statement on Burgon clearly acknowledges that Burgon did not, in 2016, remember saying what he was accused of saying in 2014 and asked for chapter and verse. Funny that it took 3 years to come and happens to be released when there is a (temporary) lull in the assault on Labour for antisemitism.

    The JVL statement did say that Burgon “should immediately plead guilty to memory loss, and nothing else”. Burgon clearly didn’t lie [= a deliberate attempt to mislead and deceive] but Denham seems to be doing exactly that by sttempting to put such a construction on Burgon’s words.

  • Sara says:

    The disgracefully deceitful enablers of the horrendously callous Israeli government will in the end come to regret this disgustingly despicable witch hunt against the truth. They wait for the slightest remark about Israel or the mere mention of their behaviour or support for the Palestinians and then off they go again to their well rehearsed plan of trying to destroy great people. They will never be taken seriously again when God forbid they encounter real racism. Its like the child crying wolf too many times and about the same level of intellect. This is George Orwells 1984 and the Thought Police terror come to life. We all must be brave, stand up for the people being targeted and keep speaking the truth. We fought world wars for freedom of speech and will not let these clowns take it from us.

  • Sara says:

    The brutal Israeli government enablers and their orchestrated fake outrage against anyone that dares to utter a single negative word have lost all touch with reality and the truth. They should remember before it’s too late these immortal words written about how the Nazis operated in Germany and how persecution starts and ends if we are scared into silence:
    “First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—
    Because I was not a socialist.
    Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—
    Because I was not a trade unionist.
    Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
    Because I was not a Jew.
    Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me “

  • TP says:

    In the awful way Israeli supporters are devaluing racism, taking words out of context, chasing after people who know what they are doing, jumping on them viciously and by using it as a cover to shut down free speech on the activities of its government it will soon lose all its meaning and in future the word will have no effect which will be the real tragedy.

  • Sharen Green says:

    You know what? Zionism IS the enemy of the Palestinian people

  • Rafi says:

    Let us stop getting involved in petty squabbles about who said what to whom and when.To WIN the next election we must focus on local issues of importance that are vital in our survival as an egalitarian society.
    We must harness our resources to point out the wicked policies of the Tories so that we defeat them convincingly.
    At the same time our collective efforts should ignore what is happening in the Middle East until such time as we are in Downing Street.
    Focus Focus Focus.

  • stephen kelly says:


  • Andrew Hornung says:

    Why does Richard Burgon regret saying that “Zionism is the enemy of peace”? Does he feel the phrase is too sweeping? Not sufficiently nuanced? Taken out of context? What does he believe? Your contextualisation is useful, but it’s a pity Burgon himself doesn’t clarify the situation.
    I’m much more disturbed, however, by the reasoning of the Jewish Labour Movement’s chair Mike Katz. He claims that because the vast majority of Jewish people identify as Zionists, Burgon’s remark “insults a core part of (Jewish) identity”.
    Let us be clear. Zionism is a political view. The majority of Jews in Britain hold this view, but that doesn’t make it true. Millions of non-Jews, particularly evangelical Christians, also hold this view. If I followed Mike Katz’s reasoning I’d end up saying you can’t oppose Jewish Zionism because for most Jews it is a core belief but you can oppose non-Jewish Zionism –even if the view is the same – since for non-Jews Zionism is not a core belief.
    For certain Melanesian societies cargo cults are a fundamental belief system. If I voice my disagreement with these views am I insulting Melanesians? More importantly, Mike Katz’s approach puts him firmly behind the upholders of blasphemy laws. The mass of Pakistani citizens may in their devotion to Islam feel insulted that non-Muslims don’t think that Mohamed was a prophet. The fact that this view is a core part of their identity doesn’t make it right and should not legitimate attacks on opponents.
    If Mike Katz had lived in Ireland in the ‘50s would he have felt it necessary to concede that Christ is the saviour on the grounds that denying this was insults a core part of Irish identity?
    If it can be shown that love of the Royal Family is part of the core identity of the British people, should republicanism be outlawed?
    The Mike Katz fatwa is as ridiculous as that of the ayatollahs. It doesn’t argue the point that Richard Burgon seems quite rightly to be making, it just seeks to excommunicate. He doesn’t contest the obvious fact that the only state in the world which is officially Zionist is a threat to peace. Instead, although Richard Burgon explicitly stated that “The enemy of the Palestinian people is not the Jewish people”, Katz seeks to imply that he is anti-Semitic.

  • different frank says:

    Israel IS a right wing regime

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