A Labour MP has waded into the row over anti-Semitism in the party by launching a staunch defence of a colleague suspended over offensive messages on social media.
Rupa Huq said Naz Shah’s actions had been a “silly moment” that had happened before she was a public figure and warned against trial by Twitter.
But Labour’s leadership is facing an intense backlash over the rise of anti-Jewish sentiment in the party, with a major donor claiming a greater effort was needed to “stop the rot” in the party.
Shadow education secretary Lucy Powell admitted the party had to “do more” to tackle the problem while comedian David Baddiel said the Left has “an issue with Jews”.
Ms Shah was stripped of the parliamentary whip and barred from party activity pending an investigation of her behaviour – which David Cameron branded racist.
Ms Huq told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “This was before she was an MP, before she was a candidate even and she shared a post on Facebook. It’s easy to click those buttons – like, share.
“It’s easy to click those buttons – like, share – and I guess we have to be very, very careful what it is we are clicking on.
“It was at the time when she wasn’t a public figure. It’s just really unfortunate. If it is career-destroying it seems we are entering a phase where it is trial by Twitter.”
Ms Huq compared the post to previous controversial comments made by London mayor Boris Johnson about the developing world.
“As far as I know Naz Shah did not write anti-Semitic tract. She pressed share on a picture, which was idiotic and foolish,” she said.
She added: “I think it was a silly moment of sharing a silly picture, which I’m sure she regrets.”
Opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn had initially delivered only a reprimand, arguing that while the comments were “offensive and unacceptable”, the Bradford West MP did not hold discriminatory views.
But under pressure from senior Labour figures to take disciplinary action amid mounting concern about anti-Semitism within the ranks – and with the Prime Minister joining calls for her suspension – it was announced Ms Shah had been excluded.
Ms Shah, who quit her role as a parliamentary assistant to shadow chancellor John McDonnell on Tuesday, told MPs she deeply regretted the hurt caused by the posts and wanted to work with Jewish groups to bolster understanding.
In a 2014 Facebook post, she shared a graphic 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, with the comment: “Problem solved.”
The Guido Fawkes website – which published the post – also pointed to another made before Ms Shah was an MP, which used the hashtag #IsraelApartheid above a quote saying: “Never forget that everything Hitler did in Germany was legal.”
Labour donor David Abrahams told Jewish News: “I have been appalled by the growth of anti-Semitism in the party. This is a plague that has to be stamped out. Jews and others with values and principles need to work together within the movement to stop the rot.”
Labour peer Lord Levy, a former fundraiser for the party, told BBC’s Newsnight: “Unfortunately I have to say that I do think that it’s a serious problem. The lack of sensitivity when an MP talks about transportation of the largest Jewish community in the world, I think it just shows such ignorance.”
Rabbi Baroness Neuberger, a crossbench peer, told Newsnight: “I think Labour does have a problem with anti-Semitism. That’s not to say that other parties haven’t got problems with anti-Semitism, or that it isn’t elsewhere.
“But Labour has a very particular problem, and a particular problem at the moment.”
Ken Livingstone – the former London mayor who is a close ally of Mr Corbyn – said Ms Shah’s actions were not anti-Semitic and the suspension was unnecessary.
He told LBC Radio: “What we have at the moment is a lot of people making a big issue about anti-Semitism in the Labour Party. In 47 years I have never heard anyone say anything anti-Semitic.”
Ms Powell said the posts had been “appalling and abhorrent” and admitted the party “had to do more” to tackle anti-Semitism.
Baddiel said he receives “much worse” anti-Semitic abuse on social media every day but criticised the Left for its failures in dealing with anti-Jewish rhetoric.
“The bigger issue here is the Left does have an issue with Jews,” he told the programme.
“If Ken (Livingstone) hasn’t heard anything anti-Semitic in 47 years he hasn’t heard himself speak.”