A Labour MP suspended over anti-Semitic posts on social media has admitted she was “ignorant” about discrimination against Jews and said she was now determined to win back the community’s trust.
Naz Shah, who was readmitted to Labour earlier this month, said that she had never previously seen anti-Semitism as a form of racism and did not understand at the time that her comments were anti-Semitic. She now accepts that the posts were offensive, but insisted that she was not personally an anti-Semite.
The Bradford West MP said she now wishes she had apologised immediately the posts came to light on the Guido Fawkes website in April, rather than waiting until they were picked up by national media. And she said Labour should have moved faster with her suspension, in order to deny David Cameron the chance to demand it at Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons.
In a 2014 Facebook post before becoming an MP, Ms Shah shared a graphic of Israel’s outline superimposed onto a map of the US under the headline ”Solution for Israel-Palestine Conflict – Relocate Israel into United States”, with the comment: ”Problem solved”. Other posts used the hashtag #IsraelApartheid above a quote saying ”Never forget that everything Hitler did in Germany was legal”.
But she now says the most clearly anti-Semitic comment she made came in a post in which she warned that “the Jews are rallying” to skew the result of an online poll on Israel’s military action in Gaza.
Ms Shah told BBC Radio 4’s World at One that her first instinct when the comments came to light was to issue an immediate apology and resign straight away as parliamentary aide to shadow chancellor John McDonnell, but that she was advised to wait and see whether the story was picked up by newspapers.
“I waited for it to be published the next day and I shouldn’t have done,” she said.
“One of the tough conversations I had to have with myself … that same day was ‘God! Am I anti-Semitic?’ I had to really question my heart of hearts. Yes I have ignorance, yes everybody has prejudice and unconscious biases, but does that make me anti-Semitic? And the answer, I was really clear, was ‘No, I don’t have a hatred of Jewish people’.”
Ms Shah said the posts came about in the context of conversations she was having over Israel’s military action in Gaza, and that she was “ignorant” of their wider significance.
“I’ve had conversations with lots of people and they’ve talked to me and explained to me what I’ve got to understand and what the connotations were of what I’d done and how it’s hurt people,” she said .”It was really really ignorant.”
Asked whether she now accepted the comments were anti-Semitic, she said: “Absolutely. The language that I used was anti-Semitic, it was offensive. What I did hurt people … Those people who say ‘Naz didn’t do anything anti-Semitic’, actually no, I did. I used that language.
“I didn’t get anti-Semitism as racism. I had never come across it.”
Ms Shah said Labour needed to address the issue of anti-Semitism within its ranks, telling World at One: “If you have one incident that’s a one-off. If you have two incidents, you’ve got an issue. When there’s a pattern of things emerging then you have to address that.
“Labour isn’t overrun by anti-Semitics. I think there are pockets where there is ignorance, but that’s as in any party. Ignorance will only move and shift if we start having the conversations.”