Last week, Peterborough was rocked by accusations of antisemitism after both the Labour and Conservative parties suspended at least fourteen – mainly Muslim – members from their parties. The Chairman of the Joint Mosques Council of Peterborough Abdul M. Choudhuri responded to the allegations in a letter titled “The councillors and members I know are not anti-semitic.” Choudhuri begins:
The fact of the matter is that all Muslims believe and respect all Prophets from Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Dawud and Jesus – peace be upon them. You cannot be a Muslim unless you believe in and respect all these Prophets. To suggest that a Muslim is anti-Semitic, against Jews or Judaism is completely incorrect as it is contradiction with the Islamic faith and the essence of what a Muslim believes.
This is just doublespeak. The Biblical Prophets are all considered to be Muslims. The Christian Jesus and his mother Mary too are considered to be Muslim. But, the followers of the Prophets are believed to be following corrupted scriptures and are therefore not considered equal to Muslims. In practice, this allows room for the dismissal of beliefs which may be a core tenet of these religions; such as Zionism. The last sentence ignores the rampant antisemitism in some Muslim communities and it is a classic deflection tactic.
I have personally spoken with some of the people mentioned in the newspaper article and they have expressed the same views. “No disrespect for Jewish religion or people but no love for Israeli government”.
It would be interesting to hear which Israeli government the suspended members have expressed love for? I would wager none, so let us do away with the pretence. Noteworthy here, is the subtle but sly juxtaposition of the words “Zionism” with “Israeli government.” This novel development is probably due to the fact that Peterborough Council has adopted the IHRA definition of antisemitism, which means that Israel-bashers will henceforth be forced to find a replacement word for “Zionism” when demonising Israel. Choudhuri may have chosen his words carefully, but the accused have yet to master this art, something that he unwittingly reveals later on:
Sadly, some of them may have mixed up their feelings about religion and politics and no doubt they should be careful before making any such comments and some have already apologised for their comments.
These are the same views of many British people as well as the prominent politicians. Late Sir Gerald Kaufman who was a Jew and minister in Labour government in 1970s also shadow minister for many years. He was one of the severest critics of Israel government about Palestine issue till his death.
If Choudhuri really did respect Judaism as he claimed earlier why would he dredge up an oddball socialist as a credible voice on Israel? He could have picked a Rabbi who represents a majority strand of Judaism if he sincerely meant that. In 2016, the Chief Rabbi attempted to address the increasing demonisation of Israel by Labour Party activists by explaining that “Zionism is a noble and integral part of Judaism.” Choudhuri reveals his own bias by citing a marginalised figure in the Jewish community whose attacks on Israel went well beyond legitimate criticism: Gerald Kaufman: Labour hero, Jewish villain:
Echoing the conspiracy theories of skinheads and Islamists, Kaufman assured the House: ‘[T]he odious pressure group, AIPAC — the American Israel Public Affairs Committee — can destroy any United States politician who makes the slightest criticism of Israel’.
Condemnation from Jewish community groups only seemed to spur him to greater feats of outrage. ‘Just as Lord Ashcroft owns most of the Conservative Party,’ Kaufman alleged at a pro-Palestinian event in 2010; ‘right-wing Jewish millionaires own the rest’. In a 2011 debate, he greeted an intervention from Labour MP Louise Elmann with the exclamation: ‘Here we are, the Jews again!’ In a 2014 contribution in Westminster Hall, he explained: ‘You cannot appeal to the Israelis’ better nature, because they do not have one.’
Reflecting on the growth of pro-Israel feeling within the Tory Party, he told pro-Palestinian activists in 2015: ‘It’s Jewish money, Jewish donations to the Conservative Party – as in the general election in May – support from the Jewish Chronicle, all of those things, bias the Conservatives.’
Ironically, although Choudhuri lauds Kaufman for his attacks on Israel, he does not see fit to emulate his critical style, preferring instead to present a victim narrative. There is no condemnation of the various Islamist factions (Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad etc.) that seek the end of Israel or of their backers and financiers, such as Iran or Qatar. Choudhuri claims that parts of Kashmir are occupied by India but omits to mention Pakistan occupied Kashmir. No condemnation either of the Turkish occupation of North Cyprus. It is doubtful if either Choudhuri or any of the suspended members he is defending have ever spoken out against the ethnic cleansing of 700,000 Mizrachi Jews from Muslim majority countries – many of whom had their lands and wealth confiscated by the states they left – or mentioned that Israel absorbed them.
If Islamists want to trot out the likes of Gerald Kaufman as an authoritative voice for his community, it would be less problematic if they first adopted the same critical style towards their own communities instead of subjecting them to a victim narrative and the bigotry of low expectations.
As it stands, the letter the Chairman of Joint Mosques Council of Peterborough wrote to defend the suspended Muslim political party members is simply that of an Islamist extremist defending his fellow extremists.