Suspended MP Naz Shah has admitted she was “ignorant” about Judaism when she endorsed the relocation of Israel to America and vowed to take personal “responsibility” for talking to fellow Muslims about anti-Semitism.
The MP for Bradford West remains suspended from the party for sharing a post on Facebook that called for the transportation of Israel to America, and adding the words “problem solved”.
But, appearing at Sinai Synagogue in Leeds on Sunday night, she insisted her views had changed since the 2014 post as a result of engaging with the local Jewish community – something she insisted set her apart from her predecessor George Galloway.
“He used Palestine as a political tool and he never engaged with people. When I engaged with the Synagogue and had conversations that is when I changed. Until we have those conversations we won’t achieve change,” she told the audience during her first public appearance at a Jewish event since the controversy erupted.
“It is my job in the Muslim Community to highlight the issues of anti-Semitism. Going to Auschwitz is a fantastic idea but it won’t fix the problem. We need to educate the community. It’s up to me to own the narrative. To have conversations with the Muslim community [about anti-semitism] and that’s my responsibility.”
She apologised to both the House of Commons and directly to the Jewish community through this newspaper in the wake of the revelations about her social media posts, made at the height of the Gaza conflict.
She told the gathering of 130 community members from Leeds, Bradford and York that she wanted to make a “real apology” rather than a “politician’s apology”, adding: “I looked at myself and asked whether I had prejudice against Jewish people. But I realised I was ignorant and I want to learn about the Jewish faith and culture. I do not have hatred for Jewish people.”
She said Israel stood out in the Middle East as a democracy. And questioned by QC Simon Myerson, Shah said she had been clear about Israel’s right to exist before her election and in conversations with constituents. “I absolutely agree that Israel has a right to defend itself,” she added.
Asked if she understood boycotts are largely aimed at Jewish people, the politician told the gathering: “Since I had these conversations I understand that but before I didn’t understand that.” And she said “hell no, Bradford is open to everyone” when asked if she agreed with Galloway’s call for Bradford to be an Israel-free zone.
The event was attended by 130 members of the Leeds, Bradford and York communities. A spokesman for the Leeds Jewish Representative Council said: “The meeting was lively, respectful, and peaceful. It is part of a wider process of engagement with those from outside the Jewish Community to build better relations and an understanding of the concerns of the Jewish community.”
The talk was initiated by the Leeds Jewish Representative Council – was moved from the Orthodox Beit Hamidrash Hagadol to Sinai following a threat to the gathering. “There were a small number of people in the community who didn’t want the meeting to go Ahead but they were wrong,” a Rep council spokesman said. “The meeting was lively, respectful and peaceful. It is part of a wider process of engagement with thoe from outside the Jewish community to build better relations and an understanding of the concerns of the Jewish commnit.”
He insisted there had been no issues between Shah and the council at a meeting on a wide range of issues prior to the revelations about the posts, which were revealed by the Guido Fawkes blog.
Shah has held a number of meetings with the Jewish Labour Movement in the wake of her apologies. JLM’s Alex Sobel said the meeting reflected “the strength of feeling” about Shah’s social media postings. After two hours of strong questioning I doubt people felt that Naz is anti-Semitic and she was clear in her support of Israel and that Israelis were welcome to come to live and work in Bradford, repudiating George Galloway’s odious comments about Bradford being an Israel-free zone. I call on people in the community to work with Naz so she better understands Jewish Life in the UK, Israel and the rest of the diaspora.”