Labour’s foreign spokesperson Emily Thornberry endorses Israeli racism

Emily Thornberry addressing Labour Friends of Israel’s 2017 dinner. (LFI)

The UK Labour Party’s shadow foreign minister Emily Thornberry gave a speech last month that could have been written by a pro-Israel lobbyist.

In a groveling address in front of the Israeli ambassador at the Labour Friends of Israel annual dinner, Thornberry attacked BDS, the Palestinian-led boycott divestment and sanctions campaign.

She claimed BDS was “bigotry against the Israeli nation [that] has never been justified.” She said that “boycott of its products, its culture or its academics” was akin to “hatred of the nation and its people.”

Her comments differentiate her from Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Speaking to The Electronic Intifada, a month before he was elected to head the party in 2015, Corbyn endorsed key elements of BDS, including an arms embargo and a boycott of Israeli universities involved in military research.

Thornberry’s hostile attitude seems representative of a split in the shadow cabinet over the issue. Shadow development minister Kate Osamor tweeted in support of BDS on the weekend.

Despite a token mention of a “denial of rights” to unspecified “individuals in the occupied [Palestinian] territories,” Thornberry’s speech contained many typical Israeli propaganda talking points.

She even threw in the racist myth, long fostered by the Zionist movement, that there was no civilization in Palestine before Israeli “pioneers” arrived and supposedly “made the deserts bloom.”

Thornberry did not reply to a request for comment.

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign’s director Ben Jamal told The Electronic Intifada that BDS was an effort to counter the “exercise of overwhelming and unjust power by Israel towards the Palestinian people” who have called for a BDS campaign similar to that against apartheid South Africa.

“To frame BDS as bigoted is a moral inversion of an absurd kind,” he said.

In her speech, Thornberry gave a ticking-off to current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for backing “the expansion of settlements” in the occupied West Bank, but spoke gushingly of “our friends” in the Israeli Labor Party.

That party’s current leader Avi Gabbay, only a month before Thornberry’s speech, said that Israel’s settlements represent “the beautiful and devoted face of Zionism.”

“Kick them out”

Since then, Amiran Levin, a retired general and candidate in the recent Labor leadership election which Gabby won, threatened to ethnically cleanse all Palestinians from the West Bank.

In comments published on Wednesday, Levin said that “next time we have a war, they will no longer remain here, we will kick them out to the other side of the Jordan River. That’s how we need to fight. We were too nice in ’67.”

Levin would be a leading candidate for defence minister in the unlikely event that Labor won the next Israeli election.

Thornberry is not known to have issued any statement condemning such comments by her “friends” in the Israeli Labor Party.

Thornberry’s speech also repeated similar talking points to those Israel lobby groups which operate inside the UK Labour Party – Labour Friends of Israel and the Jewish Labour Movement.

She spoke of notable “figures in Labour history” who strongly supported Israel. Among those she named was Richard Crossman. For perhaps understandable reasons, she failed to mention the fact that Crossman once advocated genocide in Palestine.

As I documented earlier this year, in a 1959 lecture in Israel, Crossman openly spoke – approvingly – of Zionism as a settler-colonial movement.

Colonialism, racism, anti-Semitism

Referring to European settlers – “the white man” – in Africa and the Americas, he argued that “no one, until the 20th century, seriously challenged their right, or indeed their duty, to civilize these continents by physically occupying them, even at the cost of wiping out the aboriginal population.”

He regretted that “Jewish settlers” in Palestine had not “achieved their majority before 1914,” and that the Palestinians “regarded them as ‘white settlers,’ come to occupy the Middle East.”

Thornberry’s speech also spoke approvingly of a 1917 Labour “war aims” document, which endorsed the Zionist project in Palestine.

But – again, perhaps understandably – she failed to mention that Sidney Webb, who drafted that document was, at least in-part motivated by an anti-Semitic desire to rid Britain of its Jews – much like the Zionist movement itself – and to send them to Palestine as settlers.

In shockingly bigoted comments, Webb once said that he was glad there were “no Jews in the British Labour Party.”

“French, German, Russian Socialism is Jew-ridden,” he said. “We, thank heaven are free.”

Drawing on classically anti-Semitic stereotypes, he is said to have put this absence down to there being “no money” in British Labour politics at the time.

Thornberry’s speech may as well have been written by Labour Friends of Israel directly, but that doesn’t mean she is any less sincere in her support for Israeli racism.

In a 2014 Tweet uncovered by anti-apartheid Israeli activist Yael Kahn, Thornberry boasted that her husband is related to Herbert Samuel, the British empire’s first ruler of Palestine after it invaded and occupied the country in 1917.

Earlier in November she joined Labour Friends of Israel chair Joan Ryan on a propaganda tour of Israel.

In an undercover Al Jazeera documentary in January, Ryan was caught on camera faking an incident of anti-Semitism against a Palestine Solidarity Campaign activist at the 2016 Labour conference.

Thornberry’s corresponding tour at the time led by Labour Friends of Palestine now seems a rather cynical exercise in “balance,” which plays into the false Israeli narrative about the “conflict” being “complicated.”



picture doubt her remarks were carefully coordinated with Zionist influences within the British Labour party.


The proper question is what should we expect from the Labour Party’s shadow foreign minister?

And the next question is what will Corbyn and other Labour progressives do about Thornberry?


Have to say as a member of the party and JC supporter, I like many others was very disappointed with Thornberry's speech. Her clear pro Israeli /Zionist position is quite bizarrely at odds with the views of her leader who has been an advocate of Palestinian community rights all his life and it is therefore very difficult to see how that would work in government. Thornberry's is of course the shadow foreign secretary, and I would conclude (and hope) that when a Labour government is eventually elected, Corbyn will move her to the Home Office of Housing where she will have no platform for her distasteful views.


The anti Israeli Zionist supporters of the Labour Party carried everything before them at conference when Labour and anti antisemitism was debated the party is overwhelmingly opposed to Zionist Israel. There is a reckoning coming in the party and the sooner the better. We do not support Zionist Israel, we support the rights of the Palestinian people and the time is fast approaching when we have to make that clear.


Good luck with that one, Terry. You need to overcome the mountainous powers of the pro-Israel lobby in the party starting with LFI, via Louise Ellman (born sneering) to the insidious perfidy of Luke Akehurst, former NEC member and possible PPC, who runs the sycophantic webelieveinisrael website. The party's pro-Israel stance, and its heinous campaigns to suspend and expel valuable party members and activists on phony anti-semitism issues, is scandalous and should be exposed, although it would damage the party. No more so than creatures like Thorberry are already doing, with obsequious visits to Israel, Ian Austin and of course Joan Ryan, all dependable pro-Israel toadies. And what the hell is "an anti-Israel Zionist"? A Zionist is a zionist, committed to a Jewish home in Palestine, regardless of the suffering of the Palestinians, and preferably their elimination. It's hideous that we have a shadow foreign secretary who professes Palestine-sympathetic views but remains a staunch LFI. Makes nonsense of having a leader with honesty and principles.


Eric, totally agree with you, there is no place whatever in the Labour party for anyone who actively supports the Zionist. For such support condemns the Palestinians to more of what they have been suffering. Thoornberry, get rid oof her, and whille it might create a bit of a fuss, the damage is far less than the damage that woulld be done by Zionnist infiltrators within a new Labour Government. The UK must not be stranglled and bled dry like the US has been.


This was a disgraceful exhibition by Thornberry. That the shadow foreign secretary saw fit to give an effusive endorsement of a racist colonial state is cause for serious concern. That she did so before an audience dedicated to the removal of her leader Jeremy Corbyn is unconscionable. Labour Friends of Israel is a mendacious, treacherous cabal operating at the behest and under the instruction of a hostile foreign power.

Labour is going to win the next general election. To enter government with a person such as Emily Thornberry occupying the office of Foreign Secretary guarantees the continuance of deep and destructive divisions within Labour. This ruinous association with Israel must end, and the fifth column of Zionist cadres must be dissolved within the party. If they want to work for Israel, let them resign their seats and register as lobbyists.


The mistake that is being made here is assuming that Thornbury is on a frolic of her own


Very readable and forensic analysis as always Asa. The detour into the Labour Party history much of which I was unaware of is particularly interesting - Crossman would surely be chair of LFI if he was still around. I think I am surely not alone in being completely confused if not staggered by Thornberry's speech not least with respect to BDS, but, I guess anyone that goes on a tour of Israel with Joan Ryan is really going to see BDS as wrong. The completely unanswered question is how the hell this is going to work in a Labour government led by a man who has consistently advocated Palestinian community rights over his whole political life - we have to assume he will not ultimately appoint her as Foreign Secretary - Kate Osamor would be my choice.

Asa Winstanley

Asa Winstanley's picture

Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist who lives in London. He is an associate editor of The Electronic Intifada and co-host of our podcast.

He is author of the bestselling book Weaponising Anti-Semitism: How the Israel Lobby Brought Down Jeremy Corbyn (OR Books, 2023).