Labour MP Naz Shah apologises to Commons amid antisemitism row

MP says she ‘deeply regrets’ Facebook posts about Israel, after shadow energy secretary calls for her to be suspended

Naz Shah, the Labour MP accused of antisemitism, has made a “wholehearted apology” to the House of Commons over Facebook posts that appeared to suggest Israelis should be deported to the US.

Shah, whose case was raised by David Cameron at prime minister’s questions earlier in the day, used a point of order in the Commons to say that she “deeply regrets” her comments.

“I hope you will allow me to say that I fully acknowledge that I have made a mistake and I wholeheartedly apologise to this house for the words I used before I became a member,” she said.

“I accept and understand that the words I used caused upset and hurt to the Jewish community and I deeply regret that. Antisemitism 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.”

The Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, rejected calls from the shadow energy secretary, Lisa Nandy, to suspend the backbench MP over the posts.

Nandy told the BBC’s Daily Politics programme that she believed Labour should “suspend anybody who makes antisemitic comments, in line with our policy, and investigate it”.

But in a statement released shortly before he faced Cameron at prime minister’s questions, Corbyn said he had accepted the “fulsome” apology of the Bradford West MP.

Corbyn said: “What Naz Shah did was offensive and unacceptable. I have spoken to her and made this clear. These are historic social media posts made before she was a member of parliament. Naz has issued a fulsome apology. She does not hold these views and accepts she was completely wrong to have made these posts.”

He added: “The Labour party is implacably opposed to antisemitism and all forms of racism.”

Cameron seized on Shah’s case in the Commons, saying it was “quite extraordinary” that an MP who appeared to have suggested Israelis should be deported to the US could continue to receive the Labour whip.

Later a No 10 aide said: “If the Labour party had a shred of decency she would be immediately suspended … Jeremy Corbyn should be ashamed of himself.”

Corbyn’s spokesman said it was possible the national executive committee could suspend and investigate Shah but he stressed that the leader had made a choice not to withdraw the whip.

Repeatedly pressed about why Shah was not being suspended, he said the comments were antisemitic but the MP had “shocked herself” and did not mean what she said, so she could not be described as antisemitic.

On Tuesday Shah stepped down as the parliamentary private secretary to the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell.

She wrote a further apology published by Jewish News on Wednesday, saying: “The manner and tone of what I wrote in haste is not excusable. With the understanding of the issues I have now I would never have posted them. I have to own up to the fact that ignorance is not a defence.

“The language I used was wrong. It is hurtful. What’s important is the impact these posts have had on other people. I understand that referring to Israel and Hitler as I did is deeply offensive to Jewish people for which I apologise.”

In a number of social media posts before she became an MP, Shah said Israel should “relocate to the US” and posted an article that likened Zionism to al-Qaida.

She shared a picture of Israel’s outline superimposed on to a map of the US under the headline: “Solution for Israel-Palestine Conflict – Relocate Israel into United States,” along with the comment: “Problem solved.”

The post went on to say Americans would “welcome Israelis with open arms”, and the relocation would bring peace to the Middle East by ending “foreign interference”. The post suggested the US had “plenty of land” to accommodate Israel as a 51st state, allowing Palestinians to “get their life and their land back”.

Alongside the post, Shah added a smiley-face emoji and suggested she would lobby the prime minister to adopt the plan.

A series of incidents in recent months have raised concerns among some in the Labour party about whether it has been tough enough in combating antisemitism.

Nandy said on Wednesday: “We have a policy that people who make antisemitic remarks are suspended and an investigation carried out … and the policy ought to be followed without any exception.”

She said she had made her view known to the leader’s office, and Corbyn was “handling it personally, which is right as the leader of the Labour party”.

The Labour MP Kate Hoey said Shah should resign from the home affairs select committee, which is conducting an inquiry into antisemitism, “right away” and called for the party to hold an investigation.

Nusrat Ghani, a Conservative member of the committee, said Shah was no longer able to sit on its inquiry as a “neutral individual”. She told BBC Radio 4’s The World at One: “She should excuse herself from the inquiry.”

As the row reverberated at Westminster it was alleged that Shah employed a Bradford councillor who had also made antisemitic remarks on Twitter. Mohammed Shabbir is a member of her staff and she has given him a parliamentary email address. It was claimed that Shabbir had posted tweets about a “Palestinian Holocaust in Gaza”.

In details published on the Guido Fawkes website it was claimed that in a blogpost about sex crimes and grooming, he said 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 the same blogpost, of which the Guardian has seen a copy, he discusses at length the issues surrounding grooming and sex crimes within the Pakistani community.

He goes on to say: “Coming back to Bradford I believe that the Pakistani Muslim community collectively needs to listen and be ready to change the condition of ourselves. Sabbiyah Pervez did this eloquently when she described how ‘The culture of shame that aids groomers’ in the community.”

The Jewish Chronicle also ran a piece about Shabbir, claiming that in August 2014, during the Gaza conflict, he had posted on a blog about the decision to fly the Palestinian flag at Bradford town hall.

When some Bradford councillors asked why the Israeli flag could not also be flown, Shabbir wrote: “I recognise that for the Israeli people the flag represents different things, for example people like Gideon Levy, the late Israel Shahak or the ever decreasing peace movement there would be, I presume, a patriotism but one that is critical and calling to higher values of justice and truth.

“But also there would be opposing voices. However, many here in Bradford would be nauseated at seeing the Nazi flag or some other fascist with their Nazi salutes and chants.”

He went on to write: “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.”

Last year on Holocaust Memorial Day, he wrote about his experience of visiting the Yad Vashem Shoah museum in Jerusalem.

He went on to write that remembering the Holocaust “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 antisemitism 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.

“If we are to take the lessons of the Holocaust seriously we cannot trample over the present day freedoms or people. Sadly this seems to be happening all too often. Then there are exceptions like Gerald Kaufman who … have stood up in support of the Palestinian people. Likewise in Bradford I have met Jews and Christians and people of no faith who support the Palestinian cause.”

Shabbir told the Guardian: “The views on my blog are all about humanity despite which religion people follow. My actions within my community speak louder than words and the comments on my blog have been misconstrued and taken out of context.”


Heather Stewart, Rowena Mason and Nazia Parveen

The GuardianTramp

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