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May 27, 2016 5:39 pm

Longtime Cantor Rebukes Leeds Jewish Community for ‘Absolutely Disgusting’ Decision to Host ‘Antisemitic’ Labour MP Naz Shah

avatar by Lea Speyer

Labour MP Naz Shah, pictured, backed calls for Israel to “relocate” to America. Photo: Facebook.

Labour MP Naz Shah, pictured, backed calls for Israel to “relocate” to America. Photo: Facebook.

The decision by the Jewish community of Leeds, UK to host a Labour member of parliament who was suspended from the party for antisemitism is “absolutely disgusting,” a longtime local congregational leader told The Algemeiner on Friday.

David Apfel — who has served as a cantor for the Leeds Jewish community for the last 35 years and whose father served as the Av Beit Din (rabbinical court head) of the city — said it was “wrong and distressing the Leeds Jewish Representative Council (LJRC) is inviting antisemite Naz Shah to occupy a platform at a leading synagogue.”

Naz Shah, who was suspended in April after it was revealed that she had called for Israel to be relocated to the US, will take part in an event titled “An evening with Naz Shah, MP for Bradford West,” hosted by the LJRC and the Beth Hamidrash Hagadol (BHH) Cultural Committee. The event was initially slated to take place at the BHH synagogue, but was moved to the local reform synagogue, Sinai Temple.

According to a LJRC spokesman who spoke to the UK’s Jewish Chronicle, the event was planned immediately following Shah’s apology in the House of Commons for her posts, which she said were “not excusable.”

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“I accept and understand that the words I used caused upset and hurt to the Jewish community and I deeply regret that,” she told lawmakers. “I truly regret what I did.”

Shah made international headlines when antisemitic and anti-Zionist postings she wrote surfaced last month. On Facebook, Shah shared a map of Israel superimposed onto the US under the headline “Solution for Israel-Palestine Conflict – Relocate Israel into the United States,” adding her own comment: “Problem solved.” In the post, Shah claimed Americans would “welcome Israelis with open arms” and Palestinians would “get their life and their land back.” In a separate comment, Shah used the hashtag #IsraelApartheid, adding, “Never forget that everything Hitler did in Germany was legal.”

“The first thing we did was contact her and ask her for a meeting urgently,” the LJRC spokesman said. “She got back to me and we had a long conversation in which she apologized, expressed her remorse and indicated she would be willing to meet the Jewish community publicly to discuss what had been said.”

According to Apfel, invitations were sent out to the whole community via email, asking attendees to submit questions beforehand to Shah, which he said “smacks of censorship.”

“This lady has been suspended from the Labour Party by [Labour leader] Jeremy Corbyn. Labour is riddled with antisemitism and Corbyn himself is no Jew lover. We know he’s described Hamas as friends,” Apfel said. “If Shah now gets a platform with Jewish organizations and if people object to her attendance, she can use it in her favor and say she tried to make peace with the Jewish people. If the Jews accept what she says, she can then go to Labour and say, ‘I made peace with the Jewish community. Can you let me back into the party?’ It’s a win-win for her and a lose-lose for the Jewish community. It’s a very sad situation.”

Shah, Apfel said, is not sincere in making amends for her antisemitism. “Let her go and tweet to all her followers that she’s made a terrible mistake, that Israel is not a pariah, that it is a country that leads the world and has a right to exist,” he said. “Why isn’t she at her local mosque, openly telling congregants she’s sorry for her remarks about Jews, that she was wrong about Israel and does not want to deport Jews? What she posted is typical Nazi language and she should now be at the forefront defending Israel and Jews, but she’s not. Until this happens, this lady should not be given the time of day to speak to the Jewish community.”

Religious officials in Leeds appear to not be speaking out against the Shah event, Apfel said. “One clergy I spoke with had the effrontery to say that the event has nothing to do with the synagogue itself, rather the synagogue’s premises. Another clergy said he wouldn’t intervene because, using teachings in the Talmud and Gemara as justification, if a person will cause more trouble by intervening, he shouldn’t involve himself. I am saddened by the weak, overt stand of the clergy in this town,” Apfel told The Algemeiner, adding, “The LJRC does not represent me.”  

The Labour Party has been embroiled in an antisemitism scandal over the past few months and has suspended more than 50 of its members for antisemitic acts or remarks. According to a recent YouGov poll, nearly half of Labour’s members do not believe the party has a problem with Jews and that the issue is being exaggerated by the media to attack Corbyn. The Labour leader has faced extensive criticism for his handling of the situation, with many accusing him of failing to properly act against anti-Jewish bigotry within party ranks.

Labour has launched an official inquiry into claims of antisemitism within the party, which has already proven controversial and been dubbed a white-washing investigation. The head of the inquiry, Sami Chakrabarti, admitted to joining Labour on the day she was appointed to head the probe, saying she has the party’s “best interest and values at heart.” In previous comments, Chakrabarti praised a terrorist sympathizer who said Israel’s crimes were worse than the Taliban’s as a “wonderful advocate…for human rights and in particular human liberty.”

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