This blog was first written nearly two years ago. (I have amended and updated to reflect current legal positions)
In 2015, Bradford West MP, Naz Shah was suspended over Facebook posts that had been posted in 2014, one of which called for Israel to be relocated to the USA. Since then, various pieces have been written on anti-Semitism in Bradford and the lasting legacy of the relatively short but disastrous tenure of the Respect Party.
Before I became involved in Bradford politics, I was a secondary school history teacher. I taught about the persecution of Europe’s Jewish population which eventually culminated in the Holocaust, the systematic murder of 6 million Jews at the hands of Hitler’s terrifyingly efficient killing programme that was known as the Final Solution. Over the years, I became close to a couple who were both Holocaust survivors after they were invited to speak to my pupils; visited the National Holocaust Centre in Newark on school trips and organised workshops so that my pupils could prepare a presentation highlighting the plight of the slavery suffered by Jewish children in concentration camps in front of then Mayor of Kirklees, Jean Calvert. All in all, it would be fair to say that I assumed that anti-Semitism or hatred towards the Jewish people had been consigned to the annals of a shameful history, never to be repeated again.
How wrong could I have been?
During the 9 months I worked as a parliamentary aide to the Respect Party MP George Galloway, I was alarmed and dismayed at the causal anti-Semitism openly shown by a number of senior Respect officials. Anti-Semitic remarks were bandied about so casually that it seemed, after a while, absurd to even complain. After all, who could you even complain to when the National Secretary Chris Chilvers himself proclaimed that ‘Israel had no right to exist?’ Comments such as ‘stop being a tight Jew’ or ‘Hitler did us a massive favour’ were so commonplace that I eventually became numb to them.
When Ed Miliband came to Bradford in 2012, I made a passing remark on hoping to see his brother David as the next Labour Party leader. Immediately, I was branded a ‘Jew lover’ by Mohammed Aroof, a lawyer who worked at Chambers Solicitors. (Chambers Solicitors have since closed following fraud convictions and reopened as Liberty Law)
I have to reiterate, not everyone in Bradford is racist or harbours hatred towards Jewish or any other religious group. The majority of Bradfordians are law-abiding, tolerant and peaceful folk.
It can be hard for many people outside of Bradford to understand the psyche of a city that allows the views of a very small group of people to go unchallenged. But then, many have not come across the abject poverty, the lack of aspirations and the cripplingly low achievement levels across schools in the district. There was a prevailing sense of helplessness and despair amongst many of the young voters that Respect managed to somehow ‘tap into’ and exploit, mainly by pushing an ‘us and them’ narrative that was quickly internalised. Many felt that Respect could vocalize their own helplessness and despair in a way that for decades no other politician or political party had been able to. In turn, the Respect leadership could not afford to alienate this very core group of supporters, upon whom they now relied upon for future political successes as well as financial support for long term projects such as fund raising for the aid charity Viva Palestina.
Not everyone is as used to using sophisticated political language as certain Respect leaders, who are well versed in libel laws. Whenever ‘anti-Zionist’ or ‘anti-Israel’ rhetoric is used, some Respect supporters interpreted it as ‘anti-Jewish’ rhetoric; there was no distinction between the Jewish state (Israel), the ideology that was responsible for the formation of that state (Zionism) and the actual people who live in that state (Jewish). For some, all three are the one and same. When the Respect leadership made anti-Zionist comments, this gave their supporters further legitimacy for their own views.
A few weeks after the opening of the constituency office in 2012, some of the Respect activists decided to dress up in various costumes that were found in some old trunk in a building owned by Chambers Solicitors. These costumes included a uniform for a member of the Nazi Army, complete with armbands and a beret. After photos appeared on a private Facebook group of which I, along with my former employer, was a member, I was horrified and demanded their removal. My work colleagues did not feel the same as me; the general response was that there was nothing wrong with ‘some young lads playing dress up’.
Ron McKay, Rob Hoveman and other senior work colleagues seemed oblivious to the political message that these pictures were sending out (that the Respect Party were sympathetic to Nazism or to Hitler) or to the potential scandal that it would cause in the mainstream press. Eventually, I got through to Chilvers who agreed that the pictures should be removed as soon as possible.
Chilvers then instructed me to retrieve the hat discreetly from the constituency office and to return it back to Alias Yousaf, the Respect Party solicitor, having already taken care of the armbands.
Later, when I became the events co-ordinator for the Respect Party, I discussed some of my ideas with my former bosses, some of which included plans to hold celebratory events for various religious festivals as reflected by the multicultural population of Bradford. When I mentioned Hanukah and Passover, I instructed me not to include any Jewish religious festivals as doing so ‘could send out the wrong message to our supporters’. I was deeply shocked. Growing up, my parents always fasted on Passover to commemorate the Hebrew’s escape from Egypt, and it is an Islamic traditional I have since carried on myself.
When Naz Kahn/ Axa Kahn joined the Respect Party, I was alarmed at her Holocaust denial and the level of hatred she had for the Jewish people- she would regularly post pro Hitler comments on Facebook. I would counter every single of her arguments with historical fact, but I knew I was fighting a losing battle. I complained about her views regarding Hitler, the Jewish people and the Holocaust to the Respect leadership, but I was completely ignored. It seems that the Respect leadership had no issues with her views as she was eventually promoted to the position of Respect Women’s Officer.
Other members of the Respect Party posted more and more anti-Semitic posts across various social media platforms. ‘Hitler was right’ and ‘U (sic) need to be put in a gas chamber’ are just two of the examples from Amar Rafiq’s twitter feed. Instead of reprimanding or reining in members of the Respect Party, further fuel was added to the fire when it was proclaimed that Bradford West was an ‘Israel Free Zone’. This was then countered with Israeli activists coming to Bradford West to make the point that no one person had the right to stop Israelis from visiting Bradford West.
The anti- Israel/ anti-Jewish rhetoric didn’t stop there. When Respect lost the 2015 General Election, ‘Zionists’ were referenced in the conceding speech.
When it later emerged my solicitors also had a Tel Aviv office, Respect’s defeat was blamed on a worldwide conspiracy of a ‘New York- Tel Aviv axis of evil.’ Yousaf even sent out texts to people in Bradford claiming that ‘I was in cahoots with the Jews’ and that I was about to ‘receive Israeli citizenship’ which lead to phone calls asking me ‘why I was working with the Jews’. Texts from a local proprietor of a Sunday newspaper also questioned my choice of solicitors ‘Their HQ is in Tel Aviv, Israel…they set up in UK to specifically to help Israelis’.
In December 2015, Ms Kahn uploaded to the Respect Women’s Forum Facebook page an article I had written titled ‘Suicide By Stabbing’ on the spate of deadly stabbings in Israel and accused me of being a ‘Zionist Activist’ rather than a human rights activist.
In May 2017, during a hustings for the 2017 snap General Election organised by Just Yorkshire, an audience member shouted out ‘Jew Jew Jew‘ at the Labour candidate Naz Shah while she was apologising for her previous anti-Semitic comments. Her main opponent was former Respect Leader Salma Yaqoob. I live tweeted the incident and within minutes it had been picked up by many. On the way out, I was stopped by an organiser asking if I could have been mistaken in hearing those words. I was then asked to delete my tweet because ‘it will make Bradford look bad’. I refused.
On the way home, I received further phone calls and messages, demanding I remove the tweet. I was then trolled on social media by former Respect members, called a liar and an Israeli agent. Yousaf sent out even more texts about me. After I found and uploaded the recording of the incident to Twitter, the trolls then tried to claim it was not ‘Jew, Jew, Jew’ but ‘boo, boo, boo’. The incident is currently being investigated by West Yorkshire Police as a hate crime.
On Friday (10/11/17), the local newspaper reported that Naz Kahn, having now changed her name to Nasreen Khan and deleted all of her previous social media accounts, had been shortlisted as a candidate for local elections for the Labour Party. Given Nasreen Khan/ Naz Kahn’s very open history of hatred towards Jews, Israelis and Israel, for which she has never apologised, I am concerned at the message this is sending out to the rest of the world.
I am yet to receive a response to my letter to the Labour Party leadership regarding Ms Kahn’s selection. Although I do suspect the Party may find itself more busy dealing with further alarming views that Ms Khan harbours; such as ‘naming and shaming’ victims of child sex abuse cases.