The Britain that was a reliably gray media backwater for half a century is no more. It has been replaced by a Britain in which news that normally would have made the front page for weeks—for example, the resignation of a prime minister—is replaced within minutes by other a cascade of other pressing updates, such as the resignation of almost the entire opposition.
So it was this week, when news that Naz Shah, a parliamentarian who was suspended by the Labour party two months ago when her Facebook posts jokingly proposing the eradication of the State of Israel surfaced, was reinstated into the party—and welcomed by the British Jewish community.
But the day of Shah’s political rehabilitation was almost immediately eclipsed by the publication of the Chilcot Report, a 7-year investigation into the British role in the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
It was a scathing condemnation of former Prime Minister Tony Blair’s decision to join the US invasion, concluding that “the UK chose to join the invasion of Iraq before the peaceful options for disarmament had been exhausted. Military action at that time was not a last resort.”
Blair, the report asserts, deliberately exaggerated the threat posed by Saddam Hussein as he made the case for military action to the British parliament and public. Blair disregarded warnings about the potential consequences of military action, and relied too heavily on his own beliefs, rather than the more nuanced judgments of the intelligence services, the report states. “The judgments about Iraq’s capabilities … were presented with a certainty that was not justified,” Sir John Chilcot determined.
Fourteen years later, a regretful but defiant Blair, his voice feathery, described his decision as “the hardest, most momentous, most agonizing decision I took in 10 years as British prime minister.”
In an exhausting press conference lasting over two hours, Blair said he felt “deeply and sincerely… the grief and suffering of those who lost ones they loved in Iraq…There will not be a day when I relive and rethink what happened.”
But he maintained his belief that “we made the right decision and the world is better and safer.”
Behind the dramatic scenes, Shah was re-admitted into the party, one of at least 20 Labour party figures who were suspended or ejected from the party in recent months, in a swirl of anti-Israeli or anti-Semitic slurs, statements and posts that have blanketed the Labour party since the 2015 election of its leader, the longtime activist Jeremy Corbyn.
Last April, Shah admitted writing a Facebook post supporting the notion Israel’s population being transferred to the United States. It showed an image of Israel superimposed onto the mid-west, and Shah’s comment: “Problem solved and save you bank charges for the £3 billion you transfer yearly,” a reference to United States aid to Israel.
Shah added that she’d propose the scheme to President Obama and Prime Minister Cameron as it would “save them some pocket money.”
Days later, a second post emerged, comparing Israel to Nazis. Hashtag IsraelApartheid, she posted alongside the quote “Never forget that everything Hitler did in Germany was legal.” Shah, one of nine Muslims in the British parliament, was suspended the same day.
“Of all those suspended by the Labour Party for anti-Semitic actions, Naz Shah stands out as someone who has been prepared to apologize to the Jewish community at a local and national level, and make efforts to learn from her mistakes,” the Board of Deputies of British Jews wrote in a statement reacting to her return. “In that regard, her reinstatement today seems appropriate and we would hope for no repeat of past errors.”
While visiting a Leeds synagogue in May, Shah said she hoped to make a “real apology” rather than a “politician’s apology.”
“I looked at myself and asked whether I had prejudice against Jewish people. But I realized I was ignorant and I want to learn about the Jewish faith and culture. I do not have hatred for Jewish people,” she confessed.
Shah’s mea culpa was not universally lauded. On Twitter, a self-identified Socialist named Marcus Storm wrote that she “sold herself, her soul and her religion to the Zionists for personal gain.”
“Well, that is what an anti-Semite looks like, Gary Spedding, a pro-Palestinian activist who has been fighting anti-Semitism in the political left said to The Media Line, adding that he’d been attacked online for hours after opposing such remarks.
“It is important to say that I do not believe Naz Shah is in any way anti-Semitic. Having known her since before she was elected as a Member of Parliament I have always found her to be sincere and engaged in various ways when it comes to community relations,” Spedding added.
Corbyn, who was elected to his post with no previous executive experience and who has referred to the Islamist militias Hamas and Hizbullah as “friends” and recently appeared to compare Israel with the Islamic State terrorist group, said earlier this week that he regretted his 2009 endorsement of Hamas.
During a session of the Home Affairs Committee on anti-Semitism last week, Corbyn initially denied that Hamas is anti-Semitic only to be forced to concede the point after a lawmaker read him lines from Hamas’ charter calling for killing Jews.
Corbyn rejected the contention that he is fostering an atmosphere of anti-Semitism within the party.
“That is unfair,” he complained. “I want a party that is open for all. A long time ago there were sometimes anti-Semitic remarks made, when I first joined the party and later on. In recent years, no, and in my constituency not at all.”
Jonathan Sacerdoti, director of communications at the British NGO Campaign Against Anti-Semitism, said “Corbyn’s evidence given to the Parliamentary inquiry was totally inadequate. It will only further worry British Jews.”
Hugo Rifkind, a columnist for The Times of London, told The Media Line he hoped the moment marked a de-escalation of “that scary Israel obsession which marks out the loony Corbynite left.”
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