UK Labour candidate quits for ‘Shylock’ comments

Gideon Bull admits using term in front of Jewish colleague but says it wasn’t directed at her, denies knowing Shakespeare character was Jewish; 2nd candidate to step down in 2 days

Gideon Bull (Screen capture: YouTube)
Gideon Bull (Screen capture: YouTube)

A UK Labour Party candidate on Friday withdrew from running in next month’s parliamentary elections for using the term “Shylock” in front of a local Jewish politician, the second party member to pull out in 48 hours for using anti-Jewish slurs.

The incidents are the latest affecting the main opposition party, which has been accused of becoming a haven for anti-Semitism under far-left leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Gideon Bull, a councilor in the London borough of Haringey, acknowledged using the term at a meeting in July but denied it was directed toward fellow councillor Zena Brabazon, who is Jewish.

The term Shylock originated in William Shakespeare’s play “The Merchant of Venice,” whose lead character by that name is a ruthless Jewish moneylender. Many have accused the play of having anti-Semitic undertones, and perpetuating the stereotype of Jews as money-grubbing and sly. In modern use, the word has become a pejorative term for loan sharks and usurers.

Bull denied knowing the character of Shylock was Jewish.

Zena Brabazon (Screen capture: YouTube)

“When she [Brabazon] politely informed me that this saying was offensive, I immediately apologized and explained that I did not know that Shylock was Jewish and I would never have mentioned Shylock if I had known this,” he was quoted saying by the BBC.

Bull, who was standing for election in Clacton in southeast England, said the saying was common where he grew up, “but I didn’t know it was offensive.”

“This was a genuine accident and I reiterate my sincere apology for this mistake,” he told the Guardian.

“I’m standing down because I don’t want anything to deflect from the fact that Clacton has had years of neglect under the Tories,” he explained.

Labour has been investigating Bull for using the term.

The announcement by Bull came a day after another Labour candidate stepped down over controversial comments against Israel. On Wednesday, a key ally of  Corbyn who has downplayed anti-Semitism in Labour’s ranks resigned after being passed over as a candidate.

Labour is facing accusations of anti-Semitism involving Corbyn, who has come under scrutiny for his alleged failure to stop the hate speech and for past actions in which he appeared to ignore, condone, or encourage it.

Britain’s main opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn in Liverpool, northwest England on November 7, 2019. (Oli Scarff/AFP)

Following Corbyn’s takeover of the party in 2015, hate speech against Jews and Israel began proliferating in Labour’s ranks. Thousands of incidents have been recorded both by internal Labour groups like Labour Against Anti-Semitism, and external ones, including the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism.

Some of the accusations stem from Corbyn’s past support for pro-Palestinian causes and refusal to adopt a universally accepted definition of anti-Semitism — a position Corbyn has since partly revised.

The long-festering issue of anti-Semitism in Labour is coming back to haunt Corbyn just as the election campaign begins to unseat Prime Minister Boris Johnson and take up residence at 10 Downing Street.

Corbyn’s bid for Britain’s top job was sidetracked Thursday by renewed claims that he is not fit to be prime minister because of his perceived tolerance of anti-Semitic attitudes, an allegation Corbyn strongly denied.

The criticism came from Ian Austin, a former member of the Labour Party’s inner circle, who took the extraordinary step of urging British voters to choose Johnson, and from an influential Jewish newspaper that urged Britons to shun Corbyn in the country’s December 12 general election.

Corbyn denied the allegations, saying Thursday that “anti-Semitism is a poison and an evil in our society” and that he was working to root it out of the Labour Party.

The controversy erupted as Corbyn has been trying to focus attention on his party’s economic plans, based on a broad call for social justice and the restoration of social services cut by the Conservatives since 2010.

Labour’s fledgling campaign was also rocked by the resignation Wednesday of deputy leader Tom Watson, a champion of party centrists who oppose Brexit and criticize Corbyn’s handling of repeated anti-Semitism scandals.

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