Antisemitism in Political Parties

Shahrar Ali

2019: Green Party parliamentary candidate, Bethnal Green and Bow

2019: Green Party candidate for London, European Parliamentary election  

2018: Green Party Leadership candidate

2018: Green Party candidate, South Hornchurch ward, Havering London Borough Council

2014-2016: Green Party Deputy Leader

Incidents

1. On 24th January 2009, Dr Shahrar Ali made a speech at a pro-Palestinian rally, in which he stated: “Just because your god tells you to stand here does not give you the right to push us aside. Just because you observe the niceties of Holocaust Memorial Day does not mean that you have learned the lessons of history,” adding (in song), “If you tolerate this, then your children will be next.” In the preamble to the passage, he said: “Listen up [former Israeli Prime Minister] Olmert, ex-President, President Bush, listen up ‘who wants to be a millionaire’ PM Blair, listen up warmongers!…”

2. On 12th August 2018, Dr Ali posted a link on his Facebook page to an article in The Times entitled: “Greens drawn into antisemitism row”, which concerned his controversial 2009 speech. In the discussion thread which followed, one contributor commented: “[Israel’s] agents, of which there are many active within British politics, wish to effectively criminalise criticism of that state and to prevent active campaigns of solidarity with the Palestinian people.” Dr Ali ‘liked’ this.

3. On 9th October 2018, Dr Ali posted a video on Twitter of his speech against the adoption by the Green Party of the IHRA definition of antisemitism, followed by a long thread in which he reproduced most of the speech verbatim. The speech included the assertion that “[the] IHRA definition and examples [are] politically engineered to restrict criticisms of Israel’s heinous crimes against the Palestinian people” and that its effect would be “to further divert attention from Israeli aggression and war crimes towards complicity in targeted antisemitism smear campaigns.” 

4. In relation to incident [3], one Twitter user commented that “The Greens should stay of [sic] trying to provide safe spaces for antisemitism,” to which Dr Ali replied: “You mean we are not a safe space for false antisemitism smear campaigns…”

5. On 10th October 2018, Dr Ali shared an article on Twitter, relating to a definition of anti-Palestinian racism promoted by Jewish Voice for Labour, a group whose purpose is to provide an ostensibly Jewish voice in support of the most extreme elements on the Labour left, which camouflage themselves as ‘anti-Zionists’, partly in order to deflect accusations of antisemitism in the Labour Party. The image which accompanied the article showed two handcuffed fists — one wearing a ring with the Palestinian flag, the other clearly intended to be understood as belonging to a South African — with the handcuff around the ‘Palestinian’ wrist bearing the words: “South-African steel / Made in ‘Israel’.” The article itself is from the Redress Information and Analysis site, which has been noted as hosting antisemitic material, including the writings of open Holocaust deniers such as Paul Eisen and the notorious antisemite Gilad Atzmon, whose views have put him beyond the pale of even Palestinian activists. The article includes this assessment of the antisemitism crisis within the Labour Party: “bemused spectators were bored witless by the long and ludicrous propaganda campaign to vilify Jeremy Corbyn, bully the Labour Party into making the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism [sic] a cornerstone of their code of conduct and stifle discussion of Israel’s crimes against the Palestinian people”. The article then described the definition of anti-Palestinian racism promoted by Jewish Voice for Labour as “a document faintly mocking the pronouncements on anti-Semitism [sic] [of the IHRA definition].”

Analysis

Campaign Against Antisemitism’s analysis is that Dr Ali’s actions and statements amount to breaches of the International Definition of Antisemitism and qualify as antisemitic discourse according to our methodology.

In his Gaza rally speech [1], he addressed a former Israeli Prime Minister, “Olmert”, as well as former US President Bush, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and an undefined group of “Warmongers”. However, in the address he made reference to a “god who tells you to stand here”, which implies that he is referring to Jews: those who, in the Torah, were divinely promised the Land of Israel — a view espoused by some contemporary religious Zionists. While his meaning could, perhaps, be considered to include certain evangelical Christian beliefs, these are unlikely to extend to the Christian beliefs of the Presidents Bush and certainly not to the Anglican (now Catholic) Tony Blair. There can therefore be little doubt that, in spite of Dr Ali’s inclusion of American and British premiers in his apostrophising, his remarks were principally addressed to the Jewish people (both of Israel and elsewhere) and to the Israeli Prime Minister explicitly.

Dr Ali went on to imply that it was the responsibility of those he was addressing — apparently principally Jews — to learn the “lessons” of the Holocaust, accusing them of merely “observing the niceties of Holocaust Memorial Day”, the grossly offensive implication of which is that, rather than mourning their relatives and millions of other Jewish victims of genocide, they were in fact doing so in order to further an ulterior political agenda to attack Palestinians. In our analysis, this constitutes a rhetorical manifestation of antisemitism.

Regarding incident [2], by ‘liking’ the assertion that Israel has many active “agents” within British politics whose aim is to prevent criticism of Israel and solidarity with Palestinians, Dr Ali was endorsing the allegation of an Israeli conspiracy to subvert British politics, which is a common antisemitic conspiracy theory. In [3] he again alleged a conspiracy, this time claiming that the International (IHRA) definition of antisemitism is “politically engineered”. In doing so, he was ascribing an ulterior political motive to the many Jewish organisations that have backed it, and according to our analysis was thereby “making mendacious, dehumanising, demonising, or stereotypical allegations about Jews as such or the power of Jews as collective — such as, especially but not exclusively, the myth about a world Jewish conspiracy or of Jews controlling the media, economy, government or other societal institutions.”

In [4], Dr Ali referred to what he believes to be false charges of antisemitism levelled by Jews for hidden reasons; furthermore, in [5] he retweeted an article from a notorious website hosting extreme antisemitic material, which alleges that Jeremy Corbyn has been “vilified” and the Labour Party “bullied” in order to “stifle discussion of Israel’s crimes against the Palestinian people”. By characterising those who allege antisemitism as being politically motivated, Dr Ali inevitably included those Jewish groups and individuals who have publicly and repeatedly done so. In doing so, he was deploying the so-called Livingstone Formulation, by accusing Jews who cite evidence of antisemitism of lying, conspiring or having deceitful motives in doing so when there is clear evidence that there have been breaches of the International Definition of Antisemitism.

Outcome

On 3rd August 2018, Campaign Against Antisemitism was contacted for comment by the online publication Left Foot Forward regarding the content of Dr Ali’s 2009 speech.

On 6th August 2018, it was reported that, as a result of our comment, the Green Party had “reached out” to Campaign Against Antisemitism in an attempt to “ensure we fully understand their concerns and to respond accordingly” after admitting that its response to Mr Ali’s 2009 speech had been “inadequate”. The Green Party later issued a clarification, in which it stated: “No formal complaint of anti-Semitism [sic] against Dr Ali has ever been received but had one been received, it would have been dealt with in line with Party complaint procedures”. Under the Party’s rule book, the Party itself cannot take action against racism until a complaint has been instigated by a member or third party.

The Green Party subsequently met representatives of Campaign Against Antisemitism, at which time the Party’s disciplinary processes were discussed.

On 10th October 2018, Dr Ali spoke at the Green Party conference in Bristol against the adoption of the International (IHRA) Definition of Antisemitism, saying: “Instead of policing thoughts we should be policing Israel.” The Green Party failed to adopt the definition. 

In August 2019, the Green Party notified Campaign Against Antisemitism that our concerns about Shahrar Ali had been used as the basis for an internal Party complaint.

In September 2019, Campaign Against Antisemitism was notified that disciplinary proceedings had been instigated against Dr Ali. At the time of writing, on 15th November 2019, the outcome of these processes is unknown.

Dr Ali has now deleted almost all of his pre-2015 Facebook posts.

In November 2019, Campaign Against Antisemitism put this matter to Dr Ali, but did not receive a response.

In November 2019, Campaign Against Antisemitism put this matter to the Green Party. A spokesman said: “The Green Party utterly condemns and is committed to confronting antisemitism. We have taken action internally to do this, for example members received antisemitism training at our Autumn Conference 2018 and our Disciplinary Committee received training in September 2019. Any new allegations that come to light will be looked into. The Green Party has a robust complaints procedure which is conducted without prejudice. The current and previous leadership have regularly advocated signing the IHRA definition of antisemitism and a process of internal discussion is underway as is always the case with policy decisions in the Green Party. The decision is one that will ultimately be taken by the membership. A motion proposing that the Party signs up to the definition will be put forward by our leadership team and members of the Jewish Green Group at our next Conference in February 2020.”

Rating

Campaign Against Antisemitism has rated the Party’s handling of this matter as “unsatisfactory”. Our rating system is explained in our methodology. This case was last updated on 4th December 2019.