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Labour councillor resigns as junior whip after Israel-Hamas war tweet

Higham Hill councillor Kira Lewis tweeted a post that described Israel’s actions in Gaza as ‘bad…but not evil’. A petition signed by over 300 people has called for their suspension while an investigation takes place

By Marco Marcelline

Councillor Kira Lewis (inset) Credit: Waltham Forest Labour Party/ Street on Camara via Canva

A Waltham Forest councillor has resigned from their role as Labour junior whip after receiving backlash for a social media post they made about the Israel-Hamas war.

In a since deleted tweet, Kira Lewis, a Labour councillor for Higham Hill, had quoted lines from an opinion piece in The Jerusalem Post that described Israel’s bombardment of the Gaza Strip as “bad…but not evil”.

Cllr Lewis posted the tweet at 11.36pm on Friday 10th November before deleting it the following morning (11th November). The tweet and complaints about it are currently being reviewed by the council’s monitoring officer. 

The full quote read: “Hamas is no good for Palestinians and no good for Jews. It wants a fundamentalist Muslim dictatorship on the land from the river to the sea, devoid of all Jews. And Christians. And LGBTQ folk.

“It is no good for anyone who believes in democracy. It is simply no good for humanity. What Israel faces now in Gaza is a moral dilemma. Hamas wanted the IDF to retaliate so it could make Israel look bad. It worked. What Israel is doing is bad – killing thousands of innocent people, including children. But not evil. Hamas is evil.

“And while so many across the globe who promote Palestinian rights don’t want to see the difference, I do.”

The post prompted a petition calling for Cllr Lewis’ suspension from the council “until a thorough investigation into [their] conduct” is completed. Kira Lewis’ resignation as Waltham Forest Labour junior whip was tendered and made effective on 13th November. They had held the role since May 2023.

A screengrab of the since deleted tweet shared with the Echo

In their call for suspension, the anonymous petition-makers wrote: “The war between Israel and Gaza has been a heart breaking issue for many of us living in Waltham Forest. We have looked to our political leaders for support and solidarity and have found it in Council Leader Grace Williams and our local MP Stella Creasy. 

“However, inflammatory, ignorant and inhumane comments made by Cllr Kira Lewis has [sic] encouraged division and threats amongst our community. Such behavior is not only detrimental to our community but also undermines the democratic values that we hold dear.”

In a statement to the Echo, council leader Grace Williams said she recognised “the distress caused by the X/Twitter post” and confirmed that the post and the complaints about it have been referred to the Council’s Monitoring Officer.

She said: “As councillors we have a vital role in the community to ensure that our deeds and our words support and promote community cohesion. Words that offend or divide make this task harder not only for us, but in our joint endeavours with faith and community leaders to unite our community around a strong set of shared values. As Leader of the council and Waltham Forest Labour, I take this matter very seriously.”

Cllr Lewis has not publicly acknowledged the tweet and did not respond when approached to comment by the Echo. According to Cllr Williams, they made an unreserved apology internally within Labour.

The petition, which has received a total of 321 signatures at the time of publication, calls for the suspension of Cllr Lewis for demonstrating a “lack of compassion and unity”  and causing “growing distrust among constituents” due to their “public statements” on the Israel-Hamas conflict. 

Since the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war, the council has sought to take a non-sides stance to the conflict and has said its primary motive is to serve the “whole community” and maintain community cohesion. 

In a recent letter to the Waltham Forest Council of Mosques (WFCOM), Cllr Williams called the situation in the Middle East “deeply concerning”, and said the council was “working with the police to monitor and de-escalate community tensions, supporting our schools to promote the wellbeing and safety of all children, tackling all forms of hate crime and extremism”.

Kira Lewis, who identifies as non-binary, became the first transgender councillor to serve on Waltham Forest Council when they were elected in May 2022. Cllr Lewis is originally from Somerset, and prior to becoming a councillor Lewis worked for the national Labour Party’s communications team. 

The British Israeli Communciations and Research Centre (BICOM), a pro-Israel advocacy group, lists Kira on its website as having worked as their “communications associate” since August 2022. The Echo asked BICOM if Kira was still employed with them but we did not receive a response in time for publication.

A short biography on BICOM’s website also states that Kira was the “national organiser” at Labour First, a faction formed in the 1980s by MPs on the right-wing of the Labour Party. Its website describes one of its key aims as keeping Labour “safe from the organised hard left”. 

Cllr Lewis also sits on Waltham Forest planning and health scrutiny committees. A council spokesperson said: “Waltham Forest Council can confirm it has received complaints that are currently being reviewed under the Member Complaints Procedures. We will not be making any further comment at this time.”