The UK Labour Party’s Naz Shah, currently suspended from the party amid allegations of anti-Semitism, managed to meet and speak with local Jewish community members from Leeds and Bradford, despite an enforced change of venue. The event on Sunday evening – initiated by the Leeds Jewish Representative Council – was moved from the Orthodox Beit Hamidrash Hagadol to the Reform Sinai Synagogue following complaints about the gathering.
Shah admitted she was “ignorant about Judaism” when she made the anti-Semitic comments leading to her suspension. “It is my job in the Muslim Community to highlight the issues of anti-Semitism.”
“Going to Auschwitz is a fantastic idea but it won’t fix the problem. We need to educate the community.”
“It’s up to me to own the narrative,” she continued. “To have conversations with the Muslim community [about anti-Semitism] and that’s my responsibility.”
Shah explained that she came to this realisation after she was asked to apologize to the House of Commons and to the British Jewish community, something she described as a, “Politicians apology.”
“I looked at myself and asked whether I had prejudice against Jewish people. But I realised I was ignorant and I want to learn about the Jewish faith and culture. I do not have hatred for Jewish people.”
Despite her actions which led to her suspension, Shah insisted that she believes in Israel’s rights to exist and to self-defense, and that – contrary to former Bradford politician and rival George Galloway – she does not believe in Bradford being an ‘Israel-free zone.’
Western mainstream media had been fully geared up to cover the expected victory of the far right presidential candidate, Norbert Hofer, in the recent Austrian election. The win of the Green party candidate, Alexander Van der Bellen, robbed them of the opportunity to cover what they had been predicting as the first European post-Second World War far right head of state election victory.
Yet, the rise of far right European parties and candidates into the established international realpolitik, rather than their traditional fringe position, is something that has been and is being fundamentally overlooked.
In France, the far-right National Front won 6.8 million votes in regional elections in 2015 – its largest ever popular endorsement.
The far-right Jobbik party who polled third in Hungary, organises patrols by an unarmed but uniformed “Hungarian Guard” in Roma (Gypsy) neighbourhoods.
In Denmark, the government relies on the support of the nationalist Danish People’s Party and has the toughest immigration rules in Europe.
While, the leader of the nationalist Finns Party is the foreign minister of Finland, after it joined a coalition government last year.
Less than a year after Poland elected Andrzej Duda, a previously little-known right-wing politician as president, Warsaw’s nationalist government moved to strip a leading Jewish Holocaust scholar of a national honour for asserting simply what the previous Polish presidential incumbent, Bronislaw Komorowski, acknowledged. Namely, that Poland was in part responsible for Nazi war crimes against its Jewish population during World War II.
Perhaps one of most shocking situations currently exists in Croatia. During World War II, Croatia was ruled by the Ustashi, an axis-aligned regime that was every bit as bad as the Nazis. The Ustashi killed over 600,000 people, 500,000 of which were Serbs. The Ustashi-ruled Independent State of Croatia had a population of around 6.3 million, meaning the Ustashi killed around one in 10 of its own people. Eighty percent of the nation’s Jews were murdered.
Now the Ustashi are making a comeback. It has now penetrated cabinet ministers and the mainstream media. Ognjen Kraus, the leader of Croatia’s Jewish communities, said that the government “is simply not doing anything” and that it “does not want to.”
The nation’s new right-wing coalition that came to power at the start of the year is responsible for much of this change. As part of that coalition, Zlatko Hasanbegović became Croatia’s culture minister in January. He was once a member of a small far-right, pro-Ustashi party.
Since taking office, Hasanbegović has cut funds for progressive groups and independent media and has endorsed a revisionist documentary film that denies the scale of the crimes committed by Croatia during its alliance with Nazi Germany in the 1940s.
Reporters Without Borders, the Simon Wiesenthal Center and Serb and Jewish groups in the region have all condemned the new government.
The government’s tolerance of such a man as a minister in government is creating a climate of fear throughout the country.
Croatian soccer fans frequently chant Nazi-era slogans during games with only indirect criticism from the government. During one game with Israel, fans were heard to shout, “We Croats! Ustashi! Ustashi!”
Efraim Zuroff, the director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s office in Israel and Eastern Europe, warned that Croatia is “a country where manifestations of fascism and anti-Semitism are very common, especially in the local soccer stadiums, but not easily identifiable by those ignorant of the country’s World War II and Holocaust history.”
In the UK much of the media coverage of anti-Semitic issues has focused attention to the political left following the storm that has engulfed the Labour Party. Equally, many in the western media, following mass immigration stories and terrorist outrages, have, unsurprisingly, concentrated on radical Islamist matters and any associated anti-Semitism. Yet, if world history, our history, tells us one thing, we cannot afford to ignore or overlook the rise of the far right. If the mainstream media will not do it we shall have to do it for ourselves.
AntiSemitismWatch was one of the first to cover the trigger behind the anti-Semitism storm that has come to engulf the UK Labour Party. It began with the resignation of Alex Chalmers, the former co-chair of the Oxford University Labour Club (OULC).
In his resignation statement Chalmers highlighted his concerns over issues related the group’s endorsement of the systemically anti-Semitic BDS movement and its acolytes like Israeli Apartheid Week , alleging there were growing anti-Semitic tendencies within the OULC, “The decision of the club to endorse a movement with a history of targetting (sic.) and harassing Jewish students and inviting anti-Semitic speakers to campuses, despite the concerns of Jewish students, illustrates how uneven and insincere much of the active membership is when it comes to liberation.”
Considering the complete furor that has landed at his table since over anti-Semitism, you would imagine that Corbyn would have wanted to handle Baroness Royall’s report with complete openness and transparency? How else could he hope to try to restore the trust that has been completely eroded away for Jewish supporters of Labour and the Jewish community in general?
Unfortunately, that is not how this Labour leader thinks. Consequently, Labour is now facing a fresh row over anti-Semitism after the party failed to publish the full report. Details may not now emerge until the wider Chakrabarti Inquiry into party racism is completed in late June.
Indeed, it is now apparent that Baroness Royall wanted to publish her full report but was specifically prevented from doing so by the party’s ruling National Executive Committee (NEC).
Instead, only the executive summary of her report was released. Frustratingly, the summary does not make clear whether the allegations made by Chalmers about the OULC were unfounded or true.
But she recommends that Oxford University Labour Club, and all student Labour clubs, should “examine the culture of their club and take action to ensure that all those who wish to participate in meetings feel that there is a safe space in order to discuss and debate without discrimination”.
The peer made 11 formal recommendations for “immediate and sustained action”, while advising the Chakrabarti Inquiry of a further seven recommendations.
Chief among the 11 is that party expulsion for anti-Semitism should not automatically be for life – because “people may change their views” and those who have demonstrated they have reformed should be allowed to seek readmission.
The peer also urged the party to consider adopting “a definition of anti-Semitic discourse”, rule changes to allow “swifter action” to deal with allegations and a new independent disciplinary panel on Jew-hate.
A further recommendation is a new power that ensures no ‘statute of limitations’ to enable the party to expel anyone for anti-Semitic conduct committed at any time.
Training for officers of all Labour clubs in dealing with anti-Semitism, led by the Jewish Labour Movement and Labour Students, is also recommended by Baroness Royall.
A “clear line of reporting” of incidents is suggested, as well as the ability for individual students to report allegations directly to the party’s national Executive Director of Governance.
Moreover, the party’s national complaints unit must also be “properly resourced so that it may deal effectively with complaints of anti-Semitism”, Baroness Royall said.
Labour should also consider adopting the ‘Macpherson Principle’ – drafted by the inquiry into Stephen Lawrence’s racist murder – that an ‘anti-Semitic incident’ is any incident ‘perceived’ to be so by ‘the victim or any other person’.
As if to reinforce the lack of openness and transparency, there was an acute difference in the inquiry slant focused upon by the Labour leadership and the subsequent comments by the Baroness herself.
The party chose to concentrate on the headline that the inquiry found no evidence of ‘institutional anti-Semitism’ within the OULC.
In a hint that her own conclusions had been misrepresented by the party, Baroness Royal told the Jewish Labour Movement that she shared its ‘disappointment and frustration’ that her findings of incidents of anti-Semitism were not getting enough attention.
“I am clear that in the OULC there is a cultural problem which means that Jewish students do not always feel welcome. And we have to take action to change this situation.
“Many students reported that should a Jewish student preface a remark “as a Jew …” they are likely to face ridicule and behaviour that would not be acceptable for someone saying “as a woman …” or “as an Afro-Caribbean”. This should not be tolerated. ”
Baroness Royall also made clear in a blog that “there is too often a culture of intolerance where Jews are concerned and there are clear incidents of anti-Semitism”.
Indeed, the peer stressed that any documented evidence of misconduct within the Oxford student body would be passed to party General Secretary Iain McNicol and investigated “in line with normal procedures” for disciplinary action.
Jeremy Newmark, a former spokesman for the Chief Rabbi and chair of the Jewish Labour Movement, claimed the peer had been frustrated by the NEC’s decision.
Newmark said, “There is a problem of denial of anti-Semitism in the party. Failure to publish Royall’s full findings risks contributing to that.”
The Board of Deputies of British Jews and Simon Johnson, Chief Executive of the Jewish Leadership Council, similarly added:
“We would like to express our appreciation to Baroness Royall for her efforts. However, we regard them as incomplete and are disappointed with the NEC’s decision to suppress the release of the full inquiry.
“Organisations that do not publish full reports, particularly when they may be critical, tend to lose legitimacy in the eyes of the general public, as was the case when the media were rightly critical when FIFA tried to publish a very sanitised version of the report into the World Cup bidding procedure.”
The independence of Labour’s inquiry into anti-Semitism has been questioned after its chairman revealed that she joined the party last month.
Shami Chakrabarti, the former head of Liberty, disclosed that she became the member of the party on April 29th, just hours before her role in the inquiry was announced.
She said: “It was my judgement that as a Labour supporter who had previously not been affiliated to any political party I wanted Labour Party members to trust that I am conducting this inquiry with their best interest and values at heart.”
The inquiry will take evidence from Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, and will consider also whether his description of Hamas and Hezbollah as “friends” is appropriate.
The inquiry will report back by July 1, and Mrs Chakrabarti said that the final conclusions will be hers alone.
She said: “I will seek to make such recommendations as I see fit for a party that seeks to set the bar for the way democrats of different races, faiths, persuasions and opinions can rub along together and disagree well.
“Even in 2016 no part of any society can be completely untouched by some form of intolerance or racism.
“The difference between a progressive political party and others is that it fights both prejudice and complacency.
“It sets a higher standard for itself and is prepared to be judged by them. It will openly look at itself in the mirror.”
AntiSemitismWatch will be submitting its own five point plan to the inquiry which we published as a means of providing a road map to the party for extracting itself out of the current mire.
A Labour activist standing for the party’s National Executive Committee (NEC) has faced “vile” anti-Semitic abuse by online trolls.
One of the senior Scottish trade unions, GMB Scotland, has waded in by condemning the attacks on Rhea Wolfson, a Jewish Scottish Labour activist and the trade union’s Glasgow branch secretary.
Ms Wolfson recently announced her candidacy to replace Ken Livingstone on Labour’s NEC and has been backed by the influential pro-Jeremy Corbyn group Momentum.
After Ms Wolfson’s candidacy was confirmed, she faced a spate of coordinated anti-Semitic abuse on social media which was also extended to members of her family.
GMB Scotland secretary Gary Smith said: “There is no place for anti-Semitism or racism of any kind in our politics or society and Rhea has the total solidarity of her trade union in the face of this vile abuse.
“Rhea is a hugely talented and principled activist; a popular and respected member of our union in Scotland and beyond with an established track record of campaigning for social justice and human rights.
“We can’t let this hate go unchallenged. What sort of message would that send out to young people of all backgrounds who may want to get involved in making our communities and workplaces more fair, peaceful and prosperous?
“GMB Scotland looks after our members and we call on all representatives from across civic society and politics to condemn these hate crimes.”
GMB said they will bring the incident to the attention of the police.
Nominations to replace Livingstone on the Labour NEC close on June 24.
A version of this letter was first posted on the Jewish Labour Movement opinion section, and can be read here
We write as young members of the Labour Party and of the Jewish Labour Movement who are appalled by the recent trends of antisemitism in the Labour Party.
To see a Member of Parliament and a member of the Party’s ruling National Executive Committee suspended for making antisemitic comments and denying the offensive nature of comparing Hitler and the Nazis to the Zionist movement, has been extremely upsetting for us and many other Jewish members. The idea that accusations of antisemitism is merely a tool to smear the current leadership is quite simply wrong, and in our view, alienating to Jewish members and voters. Antisemitism exists within the Labour Party and must be taken seriously, instead of being dismissed and brushed aside.
But unfortunately, for many of us, this week has been nothing new. We know the difference between antisemitism and anti-Zionism, and right now both exist in abundance. The past few months have seen many of us having to contend with cases of antisemitism in university Labour Clubs, national youth elections and in the National Union of Students. Sadly, we are not surprised by these cases. For years, despite being party members from across the spectrum and with a range of views on domestic matters and on Israel/Palestine, we have all had experiences of being defined solely by our Jewish identity with our views ignored, and faced the use of loose antisemitic language such as ‘zio’ and ‘Zionist lobby’. At the same time, synagogues, Jewish schools and communal buildings all have high security due to the very real threat of violent antisemitic attacks. Antisemitism is not a theoretical problem, it is something we face in our daily lives. We do not want the Labour Party to become one more safe-haven for it.
Much has been written about the need for Jewish people to be able to define what is and isn’t antisemitism. This is hugely important if the Labour Party is to deal with this current crisis of antisemitism but when this current situation is over, we urge all Labour members to treat us like any other member with no prior assumptions and listen to our views as you would from anyone else, whether on domestic policy, on antisemitism or on Israel and Zionism.
Signed by Youth and Student members of the Jewish Labour Movement:
The decision by the newly elected London Mayor Sadiq Khan, to attend a Yom Hashoah commemoration event as his first public engagement was met with anger by some Twitter users, who responded with virulently anti-Israel and anti-Semitic comments as well as Holocaust denial.
After the event, Khan tweeted, “So important to reflect, remember and educate about the 6 million Jewish lives lost in the Holocaust.”
As of Monday evening, the post had been widely ‘liked’ and shared. However, there were other responses which were not so kind and included blatant Holocaust denial, including a comment that “much of the so-called ‘holocaust’ has been faked, including the post-1945 Auschwitz construction,” suggesting that much of the Auschwitz site was built after World War II.
Others responded with the usual anti-Semitic conflation between supporting Israel and the “Jewish lobby”.
While another Twitter user was more blatant in their hatred, despicably suggesting on Yom Hashoah, “Like who cares about Jewish suffering!”.
Another commentator wrote, “Have you plucked that figure of 6 [million] out of thin air? What was the total population of Jews in 1940? Don’t distort history. Max 1 [million].”
Khan received a warm welcome from London’s Jewish community at the end of Sunday’s Yom Hashoah ceremony, which brought together thousands from London’s Jewish community, including more than 150 Holocaust survivors and a combined choir from five Jewish elementary schools.
Now it has happened to one of their own, perhaps Labour will now start to properly comprehend the reality of anti-Semitism in society and, therefore, take the necessary action to address it within their own party?
Let us know what you think by commenting below or emailing us via firstname.lastname@example.org
In something reminiscent of the actions of many Jewish families faced with sweeping anti-Semitism in Western Europe in the late 19th / early 20th centuries, one of the hottest current music artists has explained his unusual name choice.
His real surname is Scheller but you will only find him on the internet or in music magazines by his ‘stage name’ Oscar – and he is hugely rated according to BBC Radio 1’s Annie Mac.
“It was for a few reasons, visually, and for cultural reasons: my surname is German-Jewish and there’s a lot of anti-Semitism in the world. I didn’t want to have any abuse thrown in my face. You just have to be careful, even in this day and age.”
In that earlier era, many Jewish refugee families fleeing persecution Westernised their surnames upon arrival in their new host countries as a means of attempting to deflect some of the consequences of anti-Semitism by demonstrating their integration or simply as a means of trying to hide their heritage.
Going without a surname is also particularly poignant in a week when UK newspaper headlines have been dominated by the Labour Party’s anti-Semitism row.
Read more about Oscar, his British childhood and musical background here.
A Scottish Labour councillor has been suspended from the party after a series of “anti-Semitic” rants on his blog – including one in which he describes Israel as “a war criminal state”.
Councillor Terry Kelly – who represents Paisley North West on Renfrewshire Council – has been removed from the party pending an investigation.
The move comes following a series of blog posts where he rails against Zionism and backs Ken Livingstone, who was suspended from the party last week.
The 67-year-old, who served as former Scottish Labour leader and retired MSP Wendy Alexander’s election agent on three occasions, also said the criticism of Livingstone is part of a bid to have Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn ousted from his role.
Councillor Kelly has also lost his place as convener of Renfrewshire Council’s Planning and Property Policy Board following his suspension from the Labour Party.
A Renfrewshire Council spokesperson said: “The situation regarding Councillor Kelly is that he is not suspended as a councillor but, as he has been suspended by his party, he cannot serve on council boards or committees where he attended as a party representative.”
In a blog post on Saturday, April 30, Councillor Kelly wrote a blog post – titled, ‘Jeremy Corbyn and Ken Livingstone are anti Semites according to the Blairite rump of the Labour Party! Beam me up Scotty’.
He wrote: “The accusations of anti-Semitism are based on something he said about Hitler and German Zionists who conspired to relocate German Jews to Palestine this was before he started the wholesale murder of the German Jewish population.
“To accept their charge of anti-Semitism you have to also accept that opposition to Zionism and Israel means you are anti-Semitic.
“No one who is attacking Livingstone can tell us what Livingstone said that was anti-Semitic, he was referring to a ‘bona fide’ historical fact which was that Hitler and the German Zionists were in accord.”
And the councillor – who represents Paisley’s Ferguslie Park area, one of the most deprived areas in Britain – said he believed it was part of a campaign to see Corbyn removed from power.
He explained: “This is the lengths that the underhand Blairites in the Labour Party will go to in their attempts to get rid of Corbyn and they do not care how much damage to the party they do to achieve that.
“With Corbyn’s landslide support as leader I foresee a lot of deselections coming, they will be democratic deselections and I will be giving them my total support, these people are treacherous self servers who think they own the Labour Party, it’s high time they learned different.”
And in a blog post from Thursday, March 31, called ‘Is it possible still, for anyone to defend Israel?’ he called for a boycott of the country and compared events there to the Vietnam War.
He also called on readers to boycott Israel as part of the Boycott, Divestment Sanctions (BDS) movement.
He explained: “Not many have investments so they can’t disinvest and sanctions are done by governments but everyone can boycott!
“The Israeli Government are twisting the arms of many countries to get them to ban BDS but the truth is that no one can stop you from boycotting Israeli goods and refusing to have any contact with them, it worked with apartheid South Africa and the State of Israel is feeling the heat so ‘pile it on’.”
Rivals on Renfrewshire Council said Councillor Kelly’s conduct was proof that Labour are not fit to govern.
A spokesperson from the Renfrewshire Council SNP group said: “SNP Leader, Nicola Sturgeon, has made clear that we have a zero tolerance towards anti-Semitism or racism of any kind.
“Councillor Kelly has made clear many times on social media his support for the view of the Iranian leadership that Israel has no right to exist, this denies the voice of the Israeli peace movement and progressive voices that want a change of policy on the Palestinian question.
“Councillor Kelly was a Militant supporter in the 1980’s, and comes from the same hard left stable as Jeremy Corbyn. “Labour is simply unelectable these days, and this is proof.”
A spokesperson for Scottish Labour said: “Terry Kelly has been suspended from the Labour Party pending an investigation.”