A prominent Labour MP criticised “appalling abuse” suffered by a schoolgirl after she was expelled from a speaking competition for an allegedly “anti-Semitic” presentation.
Ilford North MP Wes Streeting rejected claims a speech made by Leanne Mohamad, 15, was anti-Semitic, after pro-Israel group StandWithUS UK said it “contained racist overtones, libels, exaggerations and lies”.
Streeting said her presentation, made during the Jack Petchey Speak Out Challenge, had “nothing in it that could reasonably considered to be anti-Semitic, or hate speech”.
It comes after anonymous Twitter users called the British-Palestinian schoolgirl an “ISIS recruiter” and “Jew hater” online in videos and messages.
However Streeting defended her passionate criticism of Israeli policy vis-a-vis the Palestinians, saying it was “a powerful argument about human rights, drawing on her own Palestinian heritage and arguing against discrimination based on nationality, race and culture” in a Facebook statement.
Streeting’s comments come after the schoolgirl, who was born in the Al-Burj Al-Shamali refugee camp in Lebanon, gave a speech on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict alleging “discrimination” of Palestinians and citing the death of her one-year old cousin from lack of medical treatment.
A video of her speech has been viewed more than 12,500 times on YouTube, but despite the Wanstead High School student winning the regional round, judges from Speakers Trust and Jack Petchey Foundation halted her progress.
The panel said Mohamad’s speech had breached two rules, these being that “the speech must have a positive and uplifting message” and that “a speaker should never inflame or offend the audience or insult others”.
Mohamad, whose video was subsequently removed from the Speakers Trust website and YouTube channel, tweeted: “Why is it called a ‘speak out challenge’ when I am then silenced?”
Streeting added in his statement, “of course, many people will argue that her speech was one-sided. Speeches in debates so often are. All the more reason to engage in the debate – rather than shut it down.”
Pro-Israel group StandWithUs said it was “deeply concerned” with the girl’s speech, saying it “contained racist overtones, libels, exaggerations and lies”.
Streeting, who is a Labour MP with a significant Jewish population in his constituency, commented, that he had been outspoken against Labour anti-Semitism, but the campaign was “not helped by those who make baseless accusations about people like Leanne to shut down debate and discussion.”