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Wednesday, April 27, 2016 

The antisemitic muppetry of Naz Shah and connected silliness.

Naz Shah, it's fair to say, is a bit of a muppet.  After scrabbling around for months for evidence of antisemitism within Labour, turning up little more than allegations against students at Oxford and idiotic tweets by one or two activists on Twitter, some poor sap at Guido Fawkes was apparently tasked with going through years' worth of timeline updates by MPs on Facebook.

With Shah, they finally hit paydirt.  Back in 2014 she shared one of those wonderful image memes that tend to be prevalent there, suggesting a "solution" to the Israel-Palestine conflict was to relocate the country to America.  Transporting the population to the States would also only cost the equivalent of 3 years' worth of US aid to the country, so everyone would be a winner.  Shah was so taken with the idea she suggested she would send it on to both David Cameron and Barack Obama, not apparently in the least bit troubled by the history of the transporting of Jews, to focus on merely one of its objectionable aspects.

It would have been slightly less embarrassing, albeit only slightly, if Shah hadn't also recently denounced a local Tory councillor for his alleged racism, demanding that he be suspended from the party.  That it took Labour the best part of today to do the same with Shah despite knowing about the post yesterday, with Shah resigning as John McDonnell's PPS, also doesn't look great.  Shah has at least made an unequivocal apology, and did so in the House of Commons, saying that her views have changed greatly over the past 2 years.

Whether that turns out to be that, and the claims that Shah has associations with others with exceptionally dodgy views on Israel stay only that, with Shah regaining the whip at some point in the future remains to be seen.  So long as other unacceptable posts are not forthcoming, I'd like to see Shah given the benefit of the doubt and for her to be judged by her deeds rather than past words.

We have though been going through another of those periods where accusations of racism and extremism have been chucked around liberally by all sides, all in the belief that there is some political advantage to be gained.  If it seems a bit rum for a prime minister involved in the smearing of Sadiq Khan as being a pal of Islamists to then comment on Labour's alleged problems with antisemitism, that's because it is.  It also ignores how all of us will have at some point come out with some misjudged, overwrought or plain wrong commentary; social media has only made it easier to discover and make an issue of at a later date.  


Nor is this necessarily of much interest to the wider public, whom if anything would prefer politicians to sound more like they do.  When you have people texting into phone-ins declaring themselves relieved that unaccompanied refugee children in Europe won't be coming to this country, describing them as "vermin" and "leeches", as I heard on the local BBC station earlier in the week, it's worth reflecting for the most part our representatives resist the temptation to use inflammatory language.

The same cannot be said for our allies.  When you consider how former Iranian president Ahmadinejad's Holocaust denial and remarks on how Israel would "disappear from the page of history" were brought up every time he made the news, it's somewhat odd we don't hear much about the views of Azerbaijan's president Ilham Aliyev.  This is even more surprising when you consider he makes them in English, on Twitter, and to over 200,000 followers.  His most objectionable by a considerable margin was a tweet from a couple of years back when he declared that his country and Turkey were working together to counter the "myth" of the Armenian genocide, but he regularly insults neighbour Armenia, whether or not the on-going Nagorno-Karabakh conflict over the disputed territory is blowing hot or cold.  Such remarks from the head of state didn't stop Tony Blair from "advising" on the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline, despite Azerbaijan's turn-around on human rights in general being described as outpacing even Russia's, of which we've heard much more about.  


Far be it from me to suggest we should care far more about genocide denying leaders of men than Labour MPs sharing viral images on Facebook, completely unacceptable as it was, but well, you know.

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That Facebook image was certainly anti-Israeli and anti-Zionist, to the point of denying the right of the state of Israel to exist & denying the Jewish people the right to a state in the historic land of Israel. As such it's bound to be unacceptable to those who identify with the state of Israel, a group that includes many, probably most, British Jews. But I don't think that in itself makes it anti-semitic, and I think the attempts to prove that the language is anti-semitic (finding great significance in the words 'transportation' and 'solution') are thin as hell.

Cameron said something interesting today; he said "anti-semitism is, in effect, racism". Well, anti-semitism is racism, that's straightforward - so why the 'in effect'? It wasn't just a verbal tic - if you listen to the audio it really sounds as if he's putting forward an argument. I wondered if in the back of his mind anti-semitism and anti-Zionism had already merged - so the claim he thought he was making was that anti-Zionism (of which Naz Shah was indubitably guilty) was, in effect, racism.

I've got a bad feeling about this; I think there are going to be more "Labour anti-semitism" stories, and not because there's much Labour anti-semitism to be found.

I think it's on the lower end of the scale of antisemitism, which is why I think she should be given the benefit of the doubt; what makes it especially objectionable in my view is how Shah apparently couldn't see how loaded the entirety of what she reposted was, let alone then commenting further on it. It might not be explicitly racist, but then we quite rightly don't tend to wait until someone is explicitly racist to criticise them.

This said, I do think there is a concerted pushback against criticism of Israel that is once again conflating anti-Zionism and antisemitism for political gain, and it's especially interesting how it's coming when there hasn't been another major flare up in Gaza. Take for instance what Daniel Clemens, one of those criticising Malia Bouattia said:

"I think that anti-Zionism and antisemitism are two and the same thing. Zionism is the belief that Jewish people should have a homeland to live in without threat of annihilation or war. This stems from a Jewish belief. So when someone attacks Zionism they’re indirectly attacking Judaism as a religion, because the two go hand in hand."

You could say perhaps we should have expected this when a few on the left have definitely had a problem separating Islamism and Islam, but to hear that kind of statement from Clemens go unchallenged makes clear where some intend for this to head. Add in how this has been identified as an area where Corbyn is weak, which is indisputable, and no, these stories aren't going to go away when there is so much to be gained from claiming some of the least prejudiced people around are in fact racist.

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