Meet the Pro-Israel ‘Extremist’ Parachuting Into a Labour Safe Seat

Luke Akehurst is a self-proclaimed ‘Zionist shitlord’.

by Steven Methven

3 June 2024

Luke Akehurst, Labour’s candidate for North Durham. Bronte Dow/Novara Media

Before his candidacy for the safe Labour seat of North Durham had even been confirmed, Labour national executive committee member Luke Akehurst was busy cleansing his reputation. In the days before his undemocratic imposition on the constituency, he deleted over two thousand tweets, later confirming to the Metro newspaper that he’d intended to erase all of his back-catalogue.

Alongside Labour’s declaration of his candidacy, the Northern Echo ran what seemed to be a profile produced by his own office, introducing the Oxford-based candidate to his constituency with as little detail as possible. By the weekend, the Guardian had published its own puff-piece on the “particularly controversial” candidate, wholly absent any serious engagement with the question of his fitness for office. You couldn’t ask for a clearer example of the media colluding with the next party of power to grease the track of Labour’s self-proclaimed “Zionist shitlord” to government.

But in a week in which leftwing, pro-Palestinian figures found themselves ruthlessly barred from standing for Labour (and sometimes hurriedly reapproved after media backlash) for such crimes as liking a Green MEP’s tweet, commenting on Islamophobia while being Muslim, and liking a tweet referring to the “Israeli lobby”, it’s only right to examine the background of the so-called “extremist” whose membership of that very lobby is no secret.

Akehurst – who isn’t Jewish – has been the director of We Believe in Israel since its foundation in 2011. On his appointment, he told the Jewish Telegraph: “It was almost my dream job to run a pro-Israel campaigning organisation.” We Believe in Israel is itself a project of the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre (BICOM), which was co-founded by Poju Zabludowicz – the billionaire son of an Israeli defence-contractor – and was described by foreign affairs experts as “the most persistent and slickest media operations in the battle for influence over opinion formers”.

Besides producing briefing sheets and whitewashed histories of Israel, We Believe in Israel has organised tours of Israel for politicians and lobbied for the suppression of artistic outputs, all under Akehurst’s direction. The organisation also confirmed its close ties to the Israeli embassy to Al Jazeera’s 2017 documentary The Lobby, saying it “worked with a range of stakeholders including the Israeli Embassy”. Akehurst’s name made an appearance in that documentary, with Israeli embassy worker Shai Masot telling an undercover reporter the activist was “one of the best in the inside … in all the party”. Masot later resigned amid a scandal over Israeli interference in British politics.

That wouldn’t be the last time Akehurst featured in an Al Jazeera investigation. In 2022, the channel published The Labour Files based on a leak of internal Labour party documents – the largest leak in British political history – concerning the antisemitism accusations that engulfed Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. In one part, the report focuses on Luke Stanger, a pro-Israel party member accused of harassing and intimidating a number of leftwing members. When Stanger was eventually investigated by the party following a series of complaints, he submitted a letter rejecting the accusations. Except according to the document’s metadata, it was Akehurst, rather than Stanger, who had likely been its author. As one alleged victim of Stanger’s campaign put it: “I had the sense all along that this was organised. Now Luke Akehurst behaving like this, it’s quite shocking really.” 

Say Akehurst won the North Durham election. How has Labour ensured that, in government, Akehurst’s long allegiance with Israel’s interests won’t come into conflict with his duties to the UK and his constituents? After all, on at least one occasion, it seems to have interfered with his duties to his own party. 

Labour opposed the Tories’ Economic Activity of Public Bodies Bill, aimed at stopping public bodies and local councils from boycotting or divesting from Israel – two demands of the Palestinian-led ‘BDS’ movement. In Michael Gove’s opening statement to the House of Commons on the Bill’s second reading, the former levelling-up minister cited a newspaper article written by the lobbyist in which Akehurst welcomed the proposed bill because BDS “deepens the divisions in the Middle East conflict” and “demonises and delegitimises Israel”. Gove claimed Akehurst was speaking “in a personal capacity”. He wasn’t. He was writing as director of We Believe in Israel. When the Tory Bill passed its third reading earlier this year, We Believe in Israel celebrated.

Akehurst’s commitment to Israel is, in fact, a commitment to an illegal version of it, contra the positions of both the Labour party and the UK government. Despite claiming to be a supporter of the two-state solution, in a now-deleted tweet, Akehurst advances a position in which Palestinians must cede West Bank territory to illegal settlers while Israel absorbs the Syrian territory it’s illegally occupying.

Akehurst says he disapproves of the current rightwing Israeli government. In an interview last year, he called national security minister Itamar Ben-Gvir a “neo-fascist thug” and finance minister Bezalel Smotrich a “far-right demagogue” (prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, architect of the current obliteration of Gaza and target of the International Criminal Court, escaped with the more polite “populist conservative”). But despite the labels, Akehurst appears to approve of their methods. The blockade of Gaza that began on 9 October, during which 2.2 million Palestinians were deprived of food, fuel, water, medicines and electricity – all while being subjected to air strikes and mass displacement – Akehurst described as in accordance with the Geneva Convention and “proportional to achieving a legitimate military objective”

He wasn’t alone of course; Labour leader and former human rights lawyer Keir Starmer also affirmed that starving Palestinian civilians of the necessities for life was within Israel’s rights. A day later, Akehurst denied the evidence of everyone’s eyes, stating that the words “genocide”, “ethnic cleansing”, “disproportionate” and “carpet bombing” did not accurately describe Israel’s assault on Gaza. Akehurst would go on to blame the use of these words for an unconscionable rise in antisemitic violence. 

When not gaslighting Palestinians and those witnessing their destruction, Akehurst has at times appeared to be doing the work of Israel’s propagandists. A year before it became the favourite accusation of Israeli government officials to fling at any international organisation criticising its conduct, Akehurst said he thought the UN was antisemitic. When Human Rights Watch accused Israel of using illegal white phosphorus in Gaza and Lebanon, Akehurst implied it was making it up. Why? Because Israel’s military said so. And when a wave of ‘Pallywood’ accusations swept social media – in which Palestinian victims in Gaza were said to be crisis actors – Akehurst participated enthusiastically. Multiple news agencies have repeatedly debunked these claims, some as early as October last year.

There appears no limit to what Akehurst will defend when it comes to Israel. When Palestinians are denied a state, it’s their own fault for failing to resist their heavily-armed, Western-backed occupier non-violently. When they try non-violent resistance, only to be gunned down, it’s because they were secret terrorists. Nor does non-Jewish Akehurst hesitate to speak for Jews, repeatedly conflating Jewishness with Zionism. And for those who resist this association, Akehurst’s ire has been blunt: in a clip circulated online last year, Akehurst appears to blame the black heritage of Jewish activist Jackie Walker – who is both biracial and an anti-Zionist – for this “inner conflict”

The democracy-free dumping of Akehurst on the people of North Durham is a provocation by Starmer and the Labour leadership. But while the political gain is unclear, the harm is evident: more trouble and division for a party that’s struggled pathetically to acknowledge Israel’s grotesque conduct in Gaza, at potential electoral cost and against public opinion. And clearly, Akehurst’s comments have not been subject to the standards demanded of candidates less cosy with Labour’s power structures. That aside, you have to ask: is parliament, government, and a potential ministerial position really the place for a man whose entire political identity is structured around cheerleading for Israel?

Starmer has branded his election message “country first”. Let’s hope Akehurst knows which one he means.

Steven Methven is a writer and researcher for Novara Media’s live YouTube show Novara Live.

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