A Labor MP convicted of calling the Israeli government “fascist” has apologized for her “offhand” language.
Kim Johnson was criticized by Labor leader Sir Keir Starmer’s spokesman for her “unacceptable” comments during Prime Minister’s Questions.
The Liverpool Riverside MP later returned to the House of Commons to apologize and also withdrew her use of the term “apartheid state” following a request by Labor leaders.
Johnson said there are “far-right elements” in the Israeli government, but noted that he was wrong to use the term “fascist” and said it was “particularly callous given the history of the State of Israel.”
He added that he acknowledged that the use of “apartheid state” was “insensitive”, although he said he was “accurately quoting Amnesty’s description”.
Benjamin Netanyahu was sworn in as the leader of the most right-wing and religiously conservative government in Israel’s history in late December.
The region has seen an alarming rise in Israeli-Palestinian violence in recent weeks.
During PMQs on Wednesday, Ms Johnson said: “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.”
After concern from all the Commons, Ms Johnson added: “Can the Prime Minister tell us how he is challenging what Amnesty and other human rights organizations refer to as an apartheid state?”
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak responded: “Nor did he mention the horrific attacks against civilians inside Israel.
“It is important on this issue to remain calm and urge all parties to fight for peace, and that is what I will do as prime minister and in the talks I have had with the Israeli prime minister.”
After the session, the Prime Minister’s spokesman was asked if Ms Johnson’s language had been appropriate.
The official replied: “No, that is certainly not the position of the UK government. The Prime Minister stressed that the killing of innocent civilians…
“The important thing, as the prime minister said, is that people remain calm and use moderate language and take an appropriate and considered approach in dealing with what is a very difficult issue.”
Sir Keir’s spokesman denounced the use of the terms “apartheid” and “fascist”, saying that many will have been offended by the latter in particular.
He told reporters: “As a first step, we would obviously want you to remove the comments that you used for sure.”
Johnson returned to the House of Commons some two hours later to apologize.
She said: “I would like to apologize unreservedly for the intemperate language I used during the PMQs.
“I was wrong to use the term ‘fascist’ in relation to the Israeli government and I understand why this was particularly insensitive given the history of the State of Israel.
“While there are far-right elements in the government, I acknowledge that the use of the term in this context was incorrect.
“I would also like to apologize for the use of the term ‘apartheid state.’
“While I was accurately quoting Amnesty’s description, I recognize that this is insensitive and I would like to withdraw it.”
Labor previously said that while there are “specific disagreements” in any relationship between countries, the party values a strong working relationship with Israel.
“Obviously we see the relationship with Israel as important to us bilaterally. We want to have strong relations with the government of Israel,” the spokesperson said.
“Obviously, there are always problems in any bilateral relationship where there are disagreements between countries, but fundamentally the relationship between Britain and Israel is one that we value.”
He added: “I don’t think using the kind of language that is used in PMQs today is helpful in achieving that.”
Labor MP Dame Margaret Hodge called Ms Johnson’s language “dangerous”.
The veteran former congressman, who is Jewish and had relatives who died in the Holocaust, tweeted: “This language is unacceptable and dangerous. With the escalation of violence in recent weeks, this careless comment only makes it harder to close the gap.
“Not to mention a complete insult to the legacy of @LouiseEllman.”
Jewish politician Dame Louise Ellman resigned from the Labor Party in 2019 over anti-Semitism under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, but rejoined the party in 2021, saying it has a leader in Sir Keir who “Britain’s Jews can trust.”
Karla McLaren, director of political and government relations at Amnesty International UK, said the UK had “successfully failed” to hold the Israeli authorities to account for “its gross and systematic violations of international law that go back decades.”
She said: “We ask Keir Starmer, Rishi Sunak and all parliamentarians to read our 280-page report on Israel’s crushing apartheid system against the Palestinians.
“UK politicians should engage with human rights experts on this issue, visit the region to see for themselves the brutal reality of Israeli apartheid and take a principled stance in opposition to all human rights violations in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory”.