Britain’s opposition Labour Party on Wednesday suspended an MP who called for the dismantling of Israel, and ordered an investigation into her conduct.
Labour’s leader Jeremy Corbyn, who is facing a mounting crisis over anti-Semitism within Labour, acted against Naz Shah after initially standing by her. Prime Minister David Cameron had said earlier on Wednesday that it was “extraordinary” that Shah had not been suspended. “Pending investigation, she is unable to take part in any party activity,” Labour said in a statement.
Also Wednesday, fellow Labour MP Wes Streeting told The Times of Israel in an interview that his party’s response to anti-Semitism has thus far been “flat-footed and ineffective” and that “now there is media scrutiny in light of Jeremy Corbyn’s election. It’s a bit like lifting up a stone and having insects crawl out from under it.”
Battling the storm over her stance on Israel, Shah on Wednesday afternoon issued a personal apology in the House of Commons for her remarks, which she stressed she had made before she became an MP, and vowed to build better relations with Jews and all others. “I hope you will allow me to say that I fully acknowledge that I have made a mistake and I wholeheartedly apologize to this house for the words I used before I became a member,” said Shah. “I accept and understand that the words I used caused upset and hurt to the Jewish community and I deeply regret that. Anti-semitism is racism, full stop. As an MP I will do everything in my power to build relations between Muslims, Jews and people of different faiths and none.”
But Corbyn, having initially accepted her apology, suspended her a short time later. Cameron had called it “quite extraordinary” that Labour had not suspended Shah. The Guardian quoted an aide to the prime minister saying, “If the Labour party had a shred of decency she would be immediately suspended … Jeremy Corbyn should be ashamed of himself.”
A senior Labour MP, Lisa Nandy, had publicly urged that Shah be suspended. Labour should “suspend anybody who makes antisemitic comments, in line with our policy, and investigate it,” said Nandy.
But Corbyn initially said Shah had “issued a fulsome apology,” which he accepted. “She does not hold these views and accepts she was completely wrong to have made these posts,” Corbyn said. His spokesman, while acknowledging her comments had been anti-Semitic, said the MP had “shocked herself” and did not mean what she said, and therefore she could not be described as anti-Semitic, the Guardian reported.
Earlier Wednesday, leading Conservative MP Sir Eric Pickles, who also serves as Britain’s special envoy for post-Holocaust issues, demanded that Shah be booted from a parliamentary panel that is investigating the rise of anti-Semitism in the UK. The only contact Shah should have with the Home Affairs Select Committee looking into anti-Semitism, said Pickles, should be as a witness testifying before it.
That call was echoed by Labour MP Kate Hoey, who said Shah should quit the panel “right away.”
Shah on Tuesday had resigned her senior position as an aide to the shadow chancellor.
In an apology published by London’s Jewish News, Shah said: “I understand that referring to Israel and Hitler as I did is deeply offensive to Jewish people for which I apologise.”
On Wednesday, reports emerged that Shah employed an aide who posted anti-Semitic tweets, called Israel a genocidal, terror state, and blogged that Russian Orthodox Jews are involved in the sex-trafficking trade and that many ultra-Orthodox Jews are regular clients of brothels.
Shah’s Facebook post was publicized on Monday, though it was originally shared online by Shah in 2014. It drew angry responses from Jewish community leaders, who called for an “urgent” clarification.
Shah, a lawmaker from Bradford West, located in Yorkshire in northern England, had shared a post of a graphic in which a small silhouette of the map of Israel is laid inside the map of the United States under a headline which reads “Solution for Israel-Palestine Conflict – Relocate Israel into United States.”
The graphic adds that: “America has plenty of land to accommodate a 51st state”; “the transportation cost will be less than 3 years of defense spending,” and “Palestinians will get their land and life back.” It also says that: “Middle East will again be peaceful without foreign interference;” and “Oil prices will go down, inflation will go down, whole world will be happy.”
Shah, who is Muslim, added a comment: “Problem solved and save u bank charges for 3 billion pounds you transfer yearly.”
The post was shared in 2014, before Shah was elected to Parliament. It was first publicized on Monday on the Guido Fawkes British politics website. All of Shah’s Facebook posts from 2014 have since been deleted.
Shah released a statement Tuesday which said: “This post from two years ago was made before I was an MP, does not reflect my views and I apologize for any offense it has caused.”
She also posted an apology on Twitter in which she announced she was stepping down from her position as parliamentary private secretary (PPS) to John McDonnell.
I am truly sorry and I will be putting out a more detailed explanation later. pic.twitter.com/x74FDKNCJE
— Naz Shah MP (@NazShahBfd) April 26, 2016
“Naz Shah’s comments about relocating Israelis to the United States are simply appalling,” said a Board of Deputies of British Jews spokesperson. “The Board of Deputies of British Jews has sought an urgent meeting for clarification of her views on Israel and the UK Jewish community.”
Unanswered letter we sent Naz Shah in Jan, on lethality of rock-throwing, following erroneous comments in Parliament pic.twitter.com/IC27q5K0wz
— Yiftah Curiel (@yiftahc) April 26, 2016
Also Wednesday, London’s Jewish Chronicle, citing the Guido Fawkes website, reported that Shah employed an aide, Mohammed Shabbir, who had “previously posted tweets about a ‘Palestinian Holocaust in Gaza’ and repeatedly used the term ‘Zio’. In a blog post about sex crimes and grooming,” the report said, Shabbir “claimed Russian Orthodox Jews were involved in ‘the sex trafficking trade – demand is particularly high among Charedim, the conservative Orthodox Jews, many of whom are regular clients of brothels…’.”
In an August 2014 blog post, at the time of the Israel-Hamas war, Shabbir also wrote that Israel is “a ‘terror’ and ‘apartheid’ state,” and defended the flying of the Palestinian flag, but not the Israeli flag, at Bradford Town Hall.
Responding to critics who asked why the Israeli flag could not also be flown, Shabbir wrote: “… many here in Bradford would be nauseated at seeing the Nazi flag or some other fascist with their Nazi salutes and chants…
“Frankly Israel is a ‘terror’ and ‘apartheid’ state, its vexillum has become a symbol of despotism and genocide. In my view there is not an appropriate time to fly this flag in Bradford. One may ask what could be this time? Could it be at the return of British Israelis from Gaza with blood on their hands? I think not. Could it be during the holocaust memorial? Many Jews and people will question the conflation of a tragedy and crime like the holocaust with a flag committing another ethnic cleansing. So what is an appropriate time? There is none.”
On Holocaust Memorial Day last year, Shabbir wrote about a visit he had made to Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust museum. Remembering the Holocaust, he wrote, “begs the questions why is the world allowing the Palestinian experience to continue? A nation that was not responsible for the holocaust bears the burden of European anti-Semitism and its guilt. We have politicians of all ilks in the UK, including Bradford council, proudly announcing that they are Zionists. I can’t imagine how they can with full knowledge of the atrocities that are taking place in Palestine.”
Labour, Britain’s main opposition party, has come under fire in recent weeks amid a string of scandals involving alleged anti-Semitism.
The Jewish Chronicle reported on Tuesday that Shah posted a tweet in August 2014 with a link to a blog that claims Zionism has been used to “groom” Jews to “exert political influence at the highest levels of public office,” and that compared Zionism to al-Qaeda. The article, titled “Colonization, Israel, Palestinian resistance and…”, from a blog called Walk Together, claimed Zionism, “like Al Qaeda, was and is a political movement layered with religious symbolism.”
A spokesperson for the Israeli embassy in London said it had sent a letter to Shah in January, condemning remarks she made downplaying the effects of rock-throwing by Palestinian minors. The letter was not answered.
As part of its self-declared crackdown on anti-Semitism, Labour suspended this week the party membership of a columnist from Ireland who apparently said Israel was using the Holocaust to receive money.
John McAuliffe, an international member of the British party, columnist at Digital Journal and the Cambridge Globalist, was suspended after allegedly posting on Facebook a message in which he described the genocide as “the most useful political tool of the Zionist government in Israel to establish a financial racket in the West, whereby Israel receives an unlimited sum for the duration of its existence,” The Jewish News reported Monday.
In his Facebook post, McAuliffe wrote: “The large level of poverty in Israel among Holocaust survivors shows they don’t care about the emotional impact they are trying to generate. It is about money and military technology. This further paints a clearer picture of the divide between Zionism and Judaism, and their incompatibility.”
Another of the seven cases of anti-Semitism exposed within the party since March involved Vicki Kirby, a party activist who suggested on social media that Adolf Hitler might be a “Zionist god” and that Jews have “big noses.” She was suspended. In another, Aysegul Gurbuz, a London-area politician, was suspended and later resigned after her Twitter account was found to feature praise for Hitler and for Iran’s plans to “wipe Israel off the map.”
Corbyn, who was elected Labour leader in September, told the BBC on April 11 that anyone making anti-Semitic statements “is auto-excluded from the party.” This policy was announced amid intense media scrutiny of Labour in connection with several incidents of hate speech against Jews, which some critics trace back to Corbyn’s past support for enemies of Israel, including Hamas and Hezbollah. He has called activists for both terrorist groups, which openly seek to destroy Israel, his “friends.”
Jonathan Arkush, the president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, recently said these cases, along with Corbyn’s perceived inaction and his failure to distance himself from Hamas and Hezbollah, mean that most British Jews distrust Labour.
Labour is also currently investigating claims of anti-Semitism at its Oxford University branch, allegations made by the branch’s former non-Jewish co-chairman who quit in protest at the society’s endorsement of Israeli Apartheid Week.