Labour’s Lisa Nandy clashes with Greens candidate Jo Bird over antisemitism

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Labour’s Lisa Nandy clashes with Greens candidate Jo Bird over antisemitism

Bird, standing for the Greens after being expelled from Labour, asks Labour's Nandy; 'Are you calling me an antisemite?'

Lee Harpin is the Jewish News's political editor

Lisa Nandy, (left) and Jo Bird, right, appear on BBC Politics North West with Paul Athans, Conservative candidate in Hazel Grove
Lisa Nandy, (left) and Jo Bird, right, appear on BBC Politics North West with Paul Athans, Conservative candidate in Hazel Grove

Labour’s Lisa Nandy has told the Green Party’s election candidate Jo Bird:”It is perfectly possible to stand up for the Palestinian cause without straying into antisemitism.”

Appearing on the BBC’s Politics North West show, Labour’s candidate in Wigan was asked if she was concerned about the impact the continued conflict in Gaza would have on her party’s vote on July 4 in constituencies with large Muslim populations.

Bird, standing as the Greens candidate in Birkenhead as being expelled by Labour, claimed on the show “people stop me on the street” to ask about her party’s position on Gaza.

She then claimed the Keir Starmer-led party were responsible for “expelling Jews like me for speaking up about the racism we face, and for criticising Israel.”

Nandy responded:”First of all, we make absolutely no apology for expelling antisemites from the Labour Party.”

Bird responded:”Are you calling me an antisemite?”

Jo Bird announced as Green parliamentary candidate for Birkenhead

But Nandy continued:”We took action on antisemitism, you know that as well as anybody.”

She added:”I have stood up for the Palestinian cause for over a decade and during that time I’ve found it perfectly possible to do that without straying into antisemitism. Anyone who can’t do that is not welcome in Labour.”

Nandy added that having been out in the Middle East directly after the October 7 Hamas attack she found the Green Party had an “inability to understand” the atrocity and the subsequent missile strikes by Iran on Israel as being “horrendous” and a “disservice to the Palestine people.”

She stressed that she believed the “security of Israel” went hand in hand with the “dignity of Palestine.”

Asked about her expulsion from Labour, and then joining the Green who have “their own problem with antisemitism”, Bird said:”I was expelled by the Labour Party, I am very critical of Israel.”

ITV political editor Robert Peston with Rebecca Long Bailey, Emily Thornberry, (who has since pulled out of the contest), Keir Starmer and Lisa Nandy during the community’s Labour leadership hustings in February (Marc Morris)

She added:”Criticism of Israel is not the same as being antisemitic.I am Jewish, I know hat my family has faced.”

Bird was expelled from Labour in November 2021 over her support for the proscribed Labour Against The Witchhunt organisation. 

She had previously provoked anger with her flippant remarks about Labour’s antisemitism crisis at meetings, repeatedly joking that “due process” should be known as “Jew process”.

Bird also defended the activist Mark Wadsworth, after he was expelled for his high-profile outburst at Ruth Smeeth, now the Labour peer Baroness Anderson, at the launch of a report into antisemitism in Labour.

At another Labour meeting she read out a rewritten version of the famous post-Holocaust poem “First The Came For..” by the German Lutheran Pastor Martin Niemöller.

Bird’s version removed the reference to Jews and replaced it with the claim “anti-Zionists” were being targeted.

Countdown presenter Rachel Riley tweeted at the time: “Absolutely aghast listening to JVL’s Jo Bird, take a poem about the Holocaust, remove the Jews, to replace them with persecution of anti-racists and anti-Zionists.”

Bird also once wrote on Facebook of Labour’s antisemitism crisis: “A lot of claims that have been made don’t actually stand up. They are fake claims and they are being pursued by Friends of Israel and political opponents.”

And she told another Labour meeting:”I worry about privileging the racism faced by Jewish communities in this country, as more worthy of resources than other forms of discrimination such as against Black people, Palestinians, Muslims and refugees.”

During Sunday’s BBC Politics North West show appearance, Bird said she supported a UK arms sale ban on Israel.

Nandy replied that Labour would review the legal advice, but added:”What I find odd about the Green Party position is that when you’ve had 500 drones fired into Israel towards innocent civilians by the Iranians, why would you not respect Israel’s right to send itself?”

Nandy said she opposed the killing of innocent civilians, and that “both lives matter.”

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