‘I was wrong to jump to conclusions’: Chair of HAIFA apologises to Hackney Green party councillors over ‘terrorists’ accusation

HAIFA chair Martin Sugarman

HAIFA chair Martin Sugarman (YouTube)

Martin Sugarman, chair of Hackney Anglo Israel Friendship Association (HAIFA) has apologised to Hackney’s Green party councillors after appearing to accuse Green Party members of being “terrorists”.

“You should both be ashamed., like all Green Party members These are the terrorists who permeate your Green party round the nation,” wrote Sugarman in an email to Hackney’s Green party councillors Zoë Garbett and Alastair Binnie-Lubbock. (The grammar has not been edited from Sugarman’s copy.

In an email chain which included The Citizen, Sugarman attached a video of a Leeds Green party councillor shouting “Allahu Akbar” following his local election victory.

“This s the true face of the Green party, whose Hackney Cllrs want to break the twinning with Haifa. What an absolute disgrace. Sheer anti-Semitism,” he continued.

The emails were sent following the local elections at the start of May. Sugarman also included Labour councillors Guy Nicholson and Robert Chapman, as well as Hackney South and Shoreditch MP Meg Hillier, in the email chain.

Cllr Binnie-Lubbock responded saying he was “disturbed” by Sugarman’s emails, labelling them “inflammatory and inappropriate for someone who claims to want to promote friendship and understanding in this world.”

Sugarman has been chair of Hackney Anglo Israel Friendship Association (HAIFA) since the organisation formed in 1966, when Hackney’s twinning relationship with Haifa began.

“Unfortunately, I can only conclude that these remarks are motivated by Islamophobia”, Cllr Binnie-Lubbock continued, and said he would ask the council to review how they engage with “any organisation chaired by someone who holds such views which are antithetical to the inclusive values of Hackney” if Sugarman did not retract, and apologise for, his comments.

Cllr Binnie-Lubbock also wrote: “Allahu Akbar is a common Arabic expression […] Implying that this expression makes this Muslim councillor a terrorist is incredibly offensive,” and corrected Sugarman on “another factual inaccuracy”, as neither he nor Cllr Garbett “have called for the breaking of the twinning of Hackney and Haifa”.

“I would point out that I did not accuse all Green party members of being terrorists”, Sugarman replied, “on the contrary I indicated that Green party members and those who especially have become councillors should be ashamed of terrorists within their ranks”.

“Having said this, I have reconsidered my remarks… I accept that I was wrong to jump to conclusions from Councillor Mothin Ali’s shout of “Allahu Akbar”. For this only I apologise,” said Sugarman.

When approached by the Citizen for further clarification of what he meant by his accusations, Sugarman said: “In my opinion, the Green party has many supporters and members who have abandoned the Labour party… and the bulk of these new entrants are in my opinion openly or secretly supporters of Hamas / Palestinians.”

Sugarman said he has formed this opinion from “facts such as Zoë Garbett bringing forward the BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) proposal to Hackney [Council’s] Pensions Committee”.

The chair of Hackney’s twinning relationship with Haifa said he was against Hackney divesting its pension fund shares in Elbit, an Israeli arms company which supplies weapons to the Israeli army, because “BDS aims to impoverish Israel in order that they cannot purchase where needed, the weapons to defend themselves”.

Sugarman labelled Cllr Garbett’s “support for the Palestinians” as “totally unrelated to Green party politics, and merely a euphemism for getting rid of Israel”.

Responding to these accusations, a Green party spokesperson said: “It’s incredibly offensive to conflate those who want to see the suffering end in Gaza with Hamas supporters.

“Despite international condemnation and pressure, the Israeli government has failed to institute a ceasefire, as called for by Hackney Council following the passing of a motion from Hackney’s Green councillors.

“This is despite the killing of over 35,000 Palestinians many thousands of whom were children and the wounding of tens of thousands more as well as 1,139 Israelis killed with dozens of people still held captive in Gaza since the beginning of the conflict.

“It is entirely appropriate for Hackney to review its investments and use what political power we have to push for peace. Just as we did in the face of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

“In light of the harrowing loss of life and limb and the sickening destruction of hospitals, medical infrastructure and the killing of aid workers in Gaza, a twinning relationship between Hackney and Homerton Hospital… with [a] Gaza [hospital] would clearly be a powerful act.”