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Pro-Israel Labour candidate criticised for comments about Jewish people

Luke Akehurst, a former Israel lobbyist, said some non-practising Jews had 'abandoned' their identity
Luke Akehurst was selected by Labour to run in North Durham, in the northeast of England, in the upcoming general election (X/Luke Akehurst)
Luke Akehurst was selected by Labour to run in North Durham, in the northeast of England, in the upcoming general election (X/Luke Akehurst)

A pro-Israel lobbyist selected by the UK Labour Party as a prospective MP has come under criticism for comments he made about Jewish people, as well as his comments on Palestine and the United Nations. 

Luke Akehurst, 52, was selected by Labour to run in North Durham, in the northeast of England, in the upcoming general election. 

Akehurst has been the director of We Believe in Israel, a lobby organisation which aims to broaden support for Israel in the UK, since 2011. He stood down from the role in recent days. 

This week, a clip surfaced on social media of Akehurst, who is not Jewish, making comments which some social media users have described as "antisemitic". 

During a video panel discussion four years ago on Israel and antisemitism, he stated, referring to some members of the Jewish community: "They have abandoned very much of their Jewish identity. They don't go to shul at all. It's become a purely cultural thing around a bowl of chicken soup."

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The comments were widely criticised by Jewish groups and commentators on social media. 

"We don't need any advice from @lukeakehurst about how to be Jews," campaign group Jewish Voice for Labour wrote on X on Thursday. "We could however offer him some useful advice about how to be a better human being." 

"As a Jewish @UKLabour Member I've just submitted a complaint about Luke Akehurst's remarks here to the Party," wrote Martin Abrams, a Labour councillor in south London.

"Considering [Labour leader] Keir Starmer has promised me that 'under his leadership he takes a Zero Tolerance approach to Antisemitism' I expect a prompt response." 

Middle East Eye has approached Akehurst and the Labour Party for comment.

Ahead of the UK general election, set for 4 July, the Labour candidate deleted over 2,000 tweets. In one of those, he asked: "Aren't Jews politically black?" In another tweet, which was not deleted, he responded to a question asking whether the United Nations was antisemitic with "Yes". 

Akehurst defended both tweets in an interview with Metro last week. 

He said it was not unusual for Israel supporters to "believe that the United Nations is very, very biased against Israel and that some of that bias could be motivated by antisemitism from some member states". 

"That’s not a position that everyone in the Labour Party would share, but it is one that I expressed in my previous job and I’m happy to articulate it," he added. 

'Golan Heights are part of Israel'

According to Scottish newspaper The National, Akehurst has made several inflammatory comments about Palestinians, too. 

In one tweet, he claimed that a Sky News video showing Palestinians wounded by an Israeli attack on al-Shifa hospital in Gaza in November 2023 had been "staged" by crisis actors. The tweet has been deleted.

He linked the footage to Palestinian video creator Saleh Aljafarawi, who pro-Israel commentators have falsely accused of being a crisis actor - a claim debunked by BBC disinformation reporter Shayan Sardarizadeh.

In another deleted tweet, Akehurst said he supported illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank becoming "part of Israel", with a future Palestinian state getting "compensatory land swaps from pre-1967 Israeli territory". 

"I want the Golan Heights to remain part of Israel," he added, in the now deleted tweet. 

In another tweet, which remains live, he said: "Drinking Yarden Merlot wine. Great thing on many different levels that the Golan Heights where it comes from are part of Israel not Syria."

When a reply responded that the occupied Golan Heights belong to Syria under international law, he responded: "international law needs changing then". 

Akehurst featured in an Al Jazeera documentary about the Israeli lobby in the UK, in which an Israeli embassy official, Shai Masot, described him as “one of the best in the inside” of the Labour Party.

Masot was filmed vouching for Akehurst’s pro-Israel credentials to an undercover reporter working with the network.

Several commentators on social media called for Akehurst's previous comments to be investigated, particularly in light of left-wing Labour candidates being removed by the party over social media activity. 

British academic Faiza Shaheen was deselected by the party on 30 May over a series of social media posts, including ones critical of Israel that were deemed by party officials as problematic.

Faiza Shaheen dropped by Labour for liking pro-BDS, Corbyn and Green Party posts
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Seven Labour councillors resigned on Tuesday, citing the party's treatment of Shaheen, among others.

In an open letter to party leader Keir Starmer on Monday, councillors Zaffar Ajaib, Sabia Akram, Haqeeq Dar, Mohammed Nazir, Naveeda Qaseem, Waqas Sabah and Jamilia Sabah expressed “disillusionment and anger” at the Labour leadership.

The councillors from the town of Slough, in the Thames Valley, pointed to the deselection of Shaheen and the tussle over left-wing veteran Diane Abbott’s candidacy as examples of the party’s “institutional racism”.

“The main issue is Gaza,” former councillor Haqeeq Dar told Middle East Eye. “But I think the breaking point was over the weekend - the treatment of long-serving Labour members like Diane Abbott and Faiza Shaheen.”

Starmer has been a strong supporter of Israel’s war on Gaza, and in October he appeared to back its decision to cut off food and water supplies to Palestinians in the besieged territory, a war crime under international law.

The Labour leader has since softened his stance and his party now advocates for a humanitarian ceasefire.

Polls show that the party has lost considerable support among the Muslim community, which has traditionally been a core Labour demographic, over its support for the war.

According to analysis from recent local elections, in areas with large proportions of Muslim voters, Labour's vote share dropped by up to a third. 

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