UK Labour 'pro-Israel' candidate Luke Akehurst accused of antisemitism

UK Labour 'pro-Israel' candidate Luke Akehurst accused of antisemitism
Speaking in a livestreamed talk, Akehurst makes comments about anti-Zionist Jews, in which he appears to say they have 'abandoned' their Jewish identity.
4 min read
08 June, 2024
Luke Akehurst openly supports Israel's war in Gaza [GETTY]

A 'pro-Israel'  UK Labour Party candidate and close ally of leader Kier Starmer has allegedly been the subject of an antisemitism complaint after footage resurfaced in which appears to criticise non-Zionist Jews in the UK.

Luke Akehurst was appointed Labour’s candidate for North Durham in northern England and serves as a director of the We Believe in Israel campaign group, which pushes Zionism as a movement for the "self-determination of the Jewish people in a sovereign Jewish national homeland, the State of Israel".

Akehurst's appointment caused a stir among some Labour members who have voiced concern over both his support for Israel’s war in Gaza and past comments in which he appears to criticise members of the UK’s non-Zionist Jewish community.

Labour councillor Martin Abrams told The New Arab that he submitted a formal complaint to the Labour Party on Thursday about Akehurst's remarks about Jewish people made in 2020.

Speaking in a livestreamed talk in 2020 titled ‘Israel, Jews and Antisemitism in the Labour Party’, Akehurst makes comments about anti-Zionist Jewish people in which he appears to claim that they have “abandoned” their Jewish identity.

 "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,” Akehurst says in the video call.

Abrams, who is a party councillor in Lambeth, south London, said that as a Jewish Labour Party member he found Akehurst’s remarks "deeply offensive" and "antisemitic".

"As a Jewish Labour Party Member I believe Luke Akehursts comments are deeply antisemitic by trying to define anti-Zionist Jews out of Judaism. The Good Jew, Bad Jew trope," Abrahms said in an email to The New Arab.

“Many Jewish anti-Zionists go to shul (synagogue) Some don't. We are all Jews and for a non-Jew to state our Jewishness is solely culture based on a bowl of 'Chicken Soup' is deeply offensive and I would question Luke Akehurst's suitability as a Labour Party candidate."

Akehurst, who has been a party activist for over 20 years and lives in Oxford, was parachuted into the northern seat by Labour, according to recent media reports.

He joined Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC) in 2020, as the party marked a shift in direction when Starmer took over the leadership from veteran left-winger and Palestine advocate Jeremy Corbyn.

The party has been accused of "purging" left-wing candidates in the wake of the election announcement as Starmer seeks to appeal to a broad voter base and away from the fringe left-wing policies of Corbyn’s years.

Since becoming leader, Starmer has made squashing antisemitism within the party one of his key missions and has said he will take a “zero tolerance approach to antisemitism”.

But Abrams expressed concern about a growing number of Labour politicians close to Starmer who he said have made antisemitic comments and "getting away with a simple apology".

The New Arab approached Akehurst for comment, who pointed us to the Labour Party for comment. The New Arab has repeatedly contacted the Labour Party for a response but did not receive a comment by the time of publication.

However, in a statement to the Byline Times, Akehurst said:

“I’m proud to have been an ally of the Jewish Community my entire political life and to have played a leading role in fighting the scourge of antisemitism in the Labour Party both before and since the EHRC Report.

“I’ve been targeted persistently since my selection by online hatred from people who are not North Durham electors. The latest manifestation of this is to take completely out of context 15 seconds of a speaker event from 2020 that latest [sic] over an hour.

“The event was a talk I gave to a Jewish audience about fighting antisemitism, and was hosted by Edgware United Synagogue."