In (partial) defence of Naz Shah

April 27, 2016 at 9:05 pm (anti-semitism, conspiracy theories, Jim D, labour party, Livingstone, Middle East, Racism, reactionay "anti-imperialism", zionism)


Above: Naz Shah apologises in the Commons

It was right and also inevitable that Naz Shah was suspended from the Labour Party following the revelation of anti-Semitic Facebook posts suggesting that Israel should be “relocated to the US” and likening Zionism to al-Qaida (made, incidentally, before she was an MP).

In her defence it should be noted that (1) she made an immediate and unequivocal apology, with no attempt to claim that this was just “anti-Zionism” and (2) she has been brought up in a political culture in which saying offensive things about Jews, Israel and Zionism is considered acceptable and in which many people don’t even recognise that anti-Semitism is much of a problem: check out Ken Livingstone’s reaction, for instance.

I was going to add that Shah (unlike, say Livingstone) is young and politically unsophisticated: but that sounds a bit patronising, doesn’t it?

But I think Shah’s obviously sincere apologies (no less than four in total), together with her promise to “expand my existing engagement with Jewish community organisations” should count in her favour, and I for one hope that she is sooner or later re-instated to Party membership and the Labour whip in the Commons.

Instead of fixating upon a naïve new MP, the Labour Party and the left as a whole should be asking how it is that it’s considered OK for people like Livingstone to repeatedly insult Jews, and why it’s acceptable to denounce Zionism in a way that no other form of nationalism is demonised. The predominant leftist language of ‘anti-Zionism’ never recognised the anti-Semitic logic of refusing to recognise the national rights of Israelis and never asked questions about the ‘Free Palestine’, ‘From the River to the Sea’ slogans. It’s hardly surprising that someone like Naz Shah found herself going along with this sort of stuff.

I leave aside for now, the unfortunate fact (noted by Mehdi Hasan) that anti-Semitism is also pretty much mainstream in the Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities in Britain.

Instead of scapegoating this young and in many ways quite impressive new MP, Labour and the left as a whole need to be examining the political culture which led to her making those Facebook posts in the first place.

19 Comments

  1. PW said,

    What does it mean that Shah is suspended? Is it permanent? Temporary? What happens to her seat during the suspension?

    • Jim Denham said,

      I don’t know: was wondering exactly that myself. As I say in the article, I hope it’s temporary.

    • Southpawpunch (@Southpawpunch) said,

      PW. An MP remains such until the next election (unless they are removed by law – not relevant here). She won’t be a Labour MP but an independent MP (in similar circumstances others have called themselves an ‘Independent Labour’ MP).

      And by the time of the next election labour will either have given her back the whip and she’ll again be a Labour MP again or they won’t and she won’t be the candidate for Labour at the election but will sit in the House of Commons until then as an independent (unless she has joined another party) MP.

      Denham would know all this stuff. I’m presuming you’re not in the UK.

  2. kb72 said,

    I hope she’s reinstated. Her apology sounds sincere, she has a grasp of the form anti-semitism takes in the Labour Party, and she has worth as someone who has had first-hand experience of forced marriage. And she’s brave – brave in her taking on Galloway, brave with this apology.

  3. Steven Johnston said,

    I don’t recognize the national rights of the Israelis, does that make me anti-Semitic?

    • Nick.W. said,

      Are you are saying that you don’t recognise the right of the Israel to exist then Steven?

    • Ben said,

      Do you recognize the national rights of the British?

    • Jim Denham said,

      If you deny even their right to self determination in principle (a right that leftists have upheld for all peoples ever since Lenin outlined the position), then yes, that is politically anti-Semitic, regardless of your personal attitude to individual Jews.

      • Southpawpunch (@Southpawpunch) said,

        But it’s not as cut and dried as that, is it?

        Are you likewise a bigot if you deny the right to national self-determination for the ‘Northern Irish’, native Americans (as one sovereign state, or a series of states based on tribes?) or Blacks in the USA – all of which have been advocated by Leftists at some time and some of which have, or had, some merit .

        I’ would not agree with any of the above demands, at least not now, and I also think some, like the native American claims, are as strong as the worth of a Jewish national state, rather than say a demand for a ‘Coptic’ state (sufferers of bigotry), although such matters are always fluid. Maybe the Copts, or the 4 million Ahmadiyyas (as well as many others) in Pakistan might one day justifiably press for national self-determination to get some relief.

        There are problems with the Jewish autonomous area that Lenin advocated and Stalin (differently?) implemented in an area to which Jews were welcome to move but never formed a majority. Palestine/Israel is very different and is a lot more of discriminatory and vicious than, say, the Protestant state of Northern Ireland was at its height.

        I take it as read that Zionists, yet socialists, like the AWL are naturally fiercely opposed to anti-Arab discrimination although such a project can but have that effect.

        It would be too crude to call them ‘bigots’. Likewise it’s a nasty smear to call Steven Johnstone an ‘anti-Semite’.

      • Steven Johnston said,

        I am not in the position to deny anything to anyone but yes, I would urge any worker to reject self-determination as all that will lead to is capitalist exploitation. I don’t see people as Jews, Christians etc. but think that all religion is reactionary and anti-working class.

  4. Southpawpunch (@Southpawpunch) said,

    Naz Shah’s Facebook views were inane (surely she can not have made them seriously but she does appear quite dim) infantile and ludicrous but they are also in the tradition of the British state (who have meant them seriously in a way of which she is incapable) e.g. the UK’s Peel Commission of 1937 which proposed “a transfer of Arabs from the area of the proposed Jewish state, and this even included a compulsory transfer from the plains of Palestine.”

    I don’t think she was being anti-Semitic. I might be wrong. But I am very sure it’s not clear cut. It’s that grey area, in which most of the recent claims of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party have been made.

    It’s that space where the masters of subtext intervene. The Daily Mail. The Tories. The PLP desperate to attack Corbyn with anything.

    She is in favour of ‘transportation’ (did she ever use that word; I’d be very surprised) subtext: trains to the death camps. Or her ‘Solution’: subtext, from Cameron, as in Final.

    And you idiot ‘Lefts’ just tail-end this reactionary wave of subtext to which ever far distant, rightwing island on which you will be marooned.

  5. Glasgow Working Class said,

    She should be booted out of the party and those other £3 quiders who joined to pursue personal agendas. This women in her victory speech raised the matter of Palestine and Kashmir. She was elected to represent one of the poorest constituencies in Britain. Her rhetoric was what you would years ago have associated with the NF & BNP.

    • Mike Killingworth said,

      Labour cannot go on trying to represent both Muslims and Jews. It must choose between them. Best of luck.

      • Steven Johnston said,

        Neither can it go on representing both classes in our society.

      • Glasgow Working Class said,

        Labour was never intended to represent religion and should not. Labour was formed to change society.
        The problem for Labour is they have been for decades high jacked by various groups and individuals who have personal agendas.
        When Glasgow Airport was attacked by the Islamic nutters the leftie nutters were soon down at the Glasgow Central Mosque showing their solidarity.

  6. The Left and anti-Semitism, Livingstone Drags the Debate to the Gutter. | Tendance Coatesy said,

    […] Jim comments on Shiraz Socialist. […]

  7. Joe in Australia said,

    I’ve got some sympathy for Naz Shah too. I don’t think she thought of Israelis as people, let alone associated them with refugees from the Holocaust and other genocides: they were just an amorphous idea of “bad people”, like the image of capitalists in 1984. Then she was suddenly forced to realise that she had been advocating forced population transfer and genocide and, if she’s at all a decent person, she now feels pretty sick. Or not.

    Her mea culpa doesn’t mean she deserves to be an MP, though: there are lots of people who could do her job. Why elect someone who has shown herself to be shallow and thoughtless? Even if she’s now learned better in this one case, it doesn’t mean that there aren’t other chasms in her social awareness.

    • AI said,

      That’s the most mature and correct reply I’ve ever read on a forum! Our elected officials need to be people who naturally see things from a neutral perspective and make educated, unbiased decisions not based on emotions. Ms Shah certainly does not tick the boxes. Unfortunately, most of her constituents share her bigotry and lack of education.

  8. DFR said,

    Of course she’s sorry for her comments. I’d be sorry too if I had to change my long held opinions or face losing a £50k a year job.
    People with such views have no place in our society, nevermind politics.

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