Lewisham Mayoral candidate targets Keir Starmer with ‘Israeli puppet’ jibe

By Robert Firth, Local Democracy Reporter

A candidate vying to be Lewisham’s new mayor distributed a flyer calling Keir Starmer Israel’s ‘puppet’ and posed with a placard that depicted a swastika above a Star of David.

John Hamilton is the Workers Party of Britain candidate for the Lewisham mayoral by-election today (Thursday).

Mr Hamilton was handing out the controversial flyer to passers-by outside Lewisham council’s Catford headquarters on Friday afternoon last week.

The leaflet reads: ‘Starmer’s Labour Party is falling apart. Any criticism of Israel is labelled antisemitic. He is their puppet.’

Speaking at the Jewish Labour Movement’s conference last month, Keir Starmer said: “Let me assure you, we will never let antisemitism sneak back into the Labour Party under cover. I see no greater cause in my leadership than this. This is my role.”

Mr Hamilton denied that calling Mr Starmer Israel’s ‘puppet’ was antisemitic, but said he was ‘sorry’ if the remarks caused offence.

Mr Hamilton said: “He [Keir Starmer] does receive money from Zionist supporters and that’s a matter of record. I don’t see what’s antisemitic about saying he’s a puppet.”

In October 2023, Mr Hamilton attended a demonstration with a placard that said ‘STOP War Crimes’. On the sign was written ‘Lidice’ and ‘Oradour,’ two Nazi massacres in the 1940s. A swastika was drawn next to each massacre referenced.

Below this was written ‘Deir Yassin’, a 1948 massacre of Palestinian Arabs by Zionist paramilitary groups, and ‘Gaza’. A Star of David was drawn next to ‘Deir Yassin’ and ‘Gaza’.

The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism, which has been adopted by the UK government, says that ‘drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis’ can be an example of antisemitism.

Mr Hamilton admitted that the placard breached the IHRA’s definition of antisemitism, but said he didn’t regard the sign as antisemitic.

While speaking at a hustings in Catford last week, Mr Hamilton said he was ‘surprised’ by a report from charity Community Security Trust (CST) that there had been a rise in antisemitism in the UK.

A report published by the CST in February this year said there were 266 assaults in 2023, an increase of 96 per cent from the 136 reported in 2022.

Mr Hamilton added: “I am not antisemitic. Two of my grandparents are Jewish. Why would I be? I just want to see fairness in all respects and not a foreign country whose policies I don’t agree with trying to influence British politics.”

Kier Starmer’s press team has been contacted for comment.

Pictured top left: John Hamilton (Picture: Robert Firth); Top right: Sir Keir Starmer (Picture: Wikimedia Commons/Chris McAndrew)

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