The Labour peer must admit his error in inviting an extreme anti-Semite to air his views
A TERM has returned to the lexicon of political debate in recent months; a term for which, in a decent world, we should have no need. That term is “anti-Semitism”.
In January, Labour produced two posters. One depicted Michael Howard as a Shylock or Fagin caricature. The other pasted the faces of Mr Howard and Oliver Letwin on to pigs’ bodies. In February, figures showed that anti-Semitic attacks rose to record levels in 2004 — 42 per cent higher than in 2003. Add to this Ken Livingstone’s comparison of a Jewish reporter to a concentration camp guard, and the odour of anti-Semitism is clearly with us once more.
But there is a more astonishing incident which has yet to receive any coverage.
Lord Ahmed, who has been a Labour life peer since 1998, is the first Muslim to have been so honoured. His presence in the House of Lords is symbolically important. His behaviour matters, both in the message it sends to his fellow Muslims and in what it represents to the rest of us.
In May, Lord Ahmed called — at considerable personal risk — for Islamic militants such as Abu Hamza and Omar Bakri to be deported. The risk was real: a fatwa was immediately issued against him.
But his behaviour has not always been so admirable.
On February 23, Lord Ahmed hosted a book launch in the House of Lords for a man going by the name of Israel Shamir. “Israel Shamir” is, in fact, a Swedish-domiciled anti-Semite also known as Jöran Jermas.
The gist of Shamir/Jermas’s speech at the meeting can be gleaned from its title, “Jews and the Empire”. It included observations such as: “All the [political] parties are Zionist-infiltrated.” “Your newspapers belong to Zionists . . . Jews indeed own, control and edit a big share of mass media, this mainstay of Imperial thinking.” “In the Middle East we have just one reason for wars, terror and trouble — and that is Jewish supremacy drive . . . in Iraq, the US and its British dependency continue the same old fight for ensuring Jewish supremacy in the Middle East.” “The Jews like an Empire . . . This love of Empire explains the easiness Jews change their allegiance . . . Simple minds call it ‘treacherous behaviour’, but it is actually love of Empire per se.” “Now, there is a large and thriving Muslim community in England . . . they are now on the side of freedom, against the Empire, and they are not afraid of enforcers of Judaic values, Jewish or Gentile. This community is very important in order to turn the tide.”
Why would Lord Ahmed have hosted such a man in the Lords? It is, of course, possible that Lord Ahmed had no idea that Shamir/Jermas was a rabid anti-Semite. Yet it takes only a quick Google to discover his views and background. He has worked for Zavtra, Russia’s most anti-Semitic publication, and is allied with the Vanguard News Network, set up by an American, Alex Linder — a man so extreme that he was even ostracised by the US neo-Nazi National Alliance.
Indeed, Shamir/Jermas’s own website proudly reprints his views: “Jews asked God to kill, destroy, humiliate, exterminate, defame, starve, impale Christians, to usher in Divine Vengeance and to cover God’s mantle with blood of goyim . . . ” “The Ashkenazi Jews believed that spilled Jewish blood has a magic effect of calling down Divine Vengeance on the heads of the Gentiles . . . The picture of Jews slaughtering children for cultic reasons exerted huge impact on the Christian peoples of Europe.” On and on it goes.
Other figures at the forefront of campaigns against Israel are wise to Shamir/Jermas’s toxic anti-Semitism; Ali Abunimah, for example, who writes for the Electronic Intifada website and Hussein Ibish, press spokesman of the American-Arab Anti Discrimination Committee, gave warning in 2001 that Shamir/Jermas was not anti-Israeli but anti-Semitic. It is surely not unreasonable to expect Lord Ahmed to have exercised a cursory check on his guest.
If, however, Lord Ahmed does feel that he made a mistake in inviting him, he has yet to demonstrate it. Shamir/Jermas’s speech was made nearly two months ago. On learning of its contents, I wrote to Lord Ahmed, asking him two questions. Did he consider the invitation to have been a mistake? Did he condemn the remarks? He did not reply.
Yesterday, I phoned him. When I told him that I planned to write a piece drawing attention to his actions in hosting Shamir/Jermas and that I wanted to give him every opportunity to respond, he replied: “I am not even going to speak with you.” He then put the phone down.
Lord Ahmed’s refusal to condemn the remarks seems to indicate that he sees nothing wrong with inviting such a man to speak, or with the words Shamir/Jermas used.
There is an instructive parallel. Howard Flight was stripped of the Conservative whip for expressing a mild opinion about spending cuts. Lord Ahmed invited a known anti-Semite to speak in the House of Lords, has not uttered a word of criticism since and remains a Labour peer. Before hearing from Lord Ahmed, I also wrote to Lord Grocott, the Labour Chief Whip in the Lords. I asked him if, given Lord Ahmed’s apparent lack of contrition, Lord Grocott considered it appropriate that Lord Ahmed should still hold the Labour whip? No reply.
All Lord Ahmed need do to destroy the notion that he supports Shamir/Jermas’s views is to admit that he made a mistake in inviting him, and to condemn his words.