Former Labour Party Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, and Labour MP for Coventry South, Zarah Sultana, are under pressure to explain why they took part in a rally in which the crowd allegedly called for the genocidal antisemitic terrorist group Hamas to blow up an Israeli city.
Both Mr McDonnell and Ms Sultana attended the demonstration, organised by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and the Stop the War Coalition held in Whitehall on 14th May. Several hundred people were in attendance.
At one point, the crowd was allegedly heard chanting in Arabic “Abu Ubaida…blow up Kiryat Shmona”.
Abu Ubaida is the spokesperson for Hamas’s military wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades. Kiryat Shmona is an Israeli city near the northern border of Israel.
The Board of Deputies, a Jewish charity, wrote to the two controversial MPs.
Mr McDonnell responded: “I was not aware of the speeches or chants you have cited in your letter but let me make myself absolutely clear that of course I disassociate myself from and condemn any antisemitic statements, speeches or chants or calls for violence if they took place here or on any other occasion. I always have and will always do so.
“One can never control what others say or do at any public gathering but if any actions take place that I disagree with, once this has been pointed out, it is right and important to explain one’s own position.
“With regard to your comments on BDS, again let me make it absolutely clear that I support the policy of boycott, divestment and sanctions, actually like many Israeli and Jewish colleagues, as a means of exerting pressure on the Israeli government to secure a just and fair treatment of the Palestinian people, nothing more.”
Ms Sultana also responded, saying: “I did not hear the chant you reference, and I was not at the demonstration at the time you flag in the recording. I have no hesitation in disassociating myself from such chants, or in condemning any instance of antisemitism. As I am sure you will appreciate, it is impossible for speakers from the main stage of public gatherings like this, which was attended by an estimated 15,000 people, to be aware of the behaviour of every member of the crowd.
“Last May, after a horrifying and widely-reported incident of antisemitic abuse on Finchley Road, I publicly condemned it and expressed my solidarity with the Jewish community in London. As I stated then: the Palestinian people’s struggle for freedom is anti-racist at its heart, driven by a conviction that all peoples should live in equality and with dignity.
“Antisemitism can therefore have no place in the Palestine solidarity movement. I will continue to insist on this, as it is incredibly important to me that my anti-racism is universal, and that – especially as minority communities in Britain – we work to build safety through solidarity.”
The Labour Party was found by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) to have engaged in unlawful discrimination and harassment of Jews. The report followed the EHRC’s investigation of the Labour Party in which Campaign Against Antisemitism was the complainant, submitting hundreds of pages of evidence and legal argument. Sir Keir Starmer called the publication of the report a “day of shame” for the Labour Party.
Campaign Against Antisemitism’s Antisemitism Barometer 2019 showed that antisemitism on the far-left of British politics has surpassed that of the far-right.
Campaign Against Antisemitism advocates for zero tolerance of antisemitism in public life. To that end we monitor all political parties and strive to ensure that any cases of concern are properly addressed.