Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Rate That Apology(/Apologies?), Part 5: Naz Shah

The latest in the ongoing torrent of anti-Semitism scandals to hit the UK relates to Bradford West MP Naz Shah. Shah actually started off the in good graces of the Jewish community for knocking off the truly odious George Galloway to take her seat. But this week bloggers uncovered several social media posts where she, among other things, called for Israel to be moved to the United States (the "transportation costs" would be less than the cost of foreign aid to Israel), said that Zionism was a tool to "groom" Jews to exercise power over other countries, and complained that "the Jews are rallying to" an online polls regarding the Gaza conflict.

She's been suspended from the party. And she also delivered an apology published in the Jewish News.
I am sorry. 
For someone who knows the scourge of oppression and racism all too well, it is important that I make an unequivocal apology for statements and ideas that I have foolishly endorsed in the past. 
The manner and tone of what I wrote in haste is not excusable. With the understanding of the issues I have now I would never have posted them. I have to own up to the fact that ignorance is not a defence. 
The language I used was wrong. It is hurtful. What’s important is the impact these posts have had on other people. I understand that referring to Israel and Hitler as I did is deeply offensive to Jewish people for which I apologise. 
When the “Gaza-Israel” conflict happened I played an active role in highlighting the plight of the Palestinian people, attended demonstrations to stop the bombing and called for equality in media reporting of the issues. 
Feelings were running high across the world and Bradford was no different. Hindsight is a wonderful thing and I’m shocked myself at the language I used in some instances during the Gaza-Israel conflict. 
For this I apologise. 
Since winning the seat of Bradford West I have made conscious efforts in areas around integration, building bridges and community development, in particular around Muslim and Jewish relations. Indeed one of my very first visits was to my local synagogue.  
Only last week I was learning and sharing over an interfaith Passover seder with Reform Movement Senior Rabbi Janner-Klausner, Vice Chair of Conservatives Friends Of Israel Andrew Percy MP and  others at the rabbi’s home. We all read from the Haggadah and learnt more  about Passover. 
I have been asked to consider joining the APPG, (All Party Parliamentary Group) on British Jews because of the work I’m doing locally, which includes building relations through my local synagogue. 
If politicians put their hands up when they get something wrong it would help to restore faith in politics. I hope that by writing to those who I have hurt, I am practicing as I preach and calling myself out. 
For those that I have caused hurt to, particularly the Jewish community, my constituents, friends and family, I sincerely hope my intentions and actions from here on in will win back your trust and faith in me. 
For my part I promise to have open and honest  conversations about such issues  and invite others to do that with me.
This isn't bad. Normally at this stage I'd do an in-depth analysis of the content and arrive at a rating, but this a rare circumstance where the content of the apology is not the most interesting matter to discuss.

Because this wasn't the only apology Shah considered.

Buzzfeed broke the news that Shah had also drafted an apology message that would have deployed far stronger language and commitments than what was found here.

Although the structure and much of the language remained the same in the published statement, Shah went much further in the draft apology seen by BuzzFeed News. 
That draft included this admission: “I helped promote anti-Semitic tropes. This was totally wrong.” 
But the line was dropped from the published version along with another mention of “anti-Semitism”. 
The draft statement – in which Shah talked at length about her personal shame regarding the comments and pledged her full commitment to fighting prejudice – also included a passage in which she said she wanted to take part in “an intersectional struggle, one where the concerns of Jewish individuals and communities are taken seriously and anti-Semitism is not dismissed out of hand or ignored”. This did not appear in the final version. 
Other sentences deleted from the draft included an apparent admission by Shah of a widespread problem of anti-Semitism among left-wing campaigners and deep concerns about the spread of “toxic conspiracy theories, group-blame and stereotyping”. 
“We on the left must stop procrastinating and tackle oppression within our own ranks, especially anti-Jewish oppression,” the draft said. The sentence did not appear in the published version. 
A reference to “Nazi Germany” was also changed to “Hitler”, prompting mockery from the editor of the Jewish Chronicle. 
“I accept that referencing Israel in a comparison to Nazi Germany was not only wrong, but totally inaccurate,” said the draft statement. “My other social media posts were also deeply offensive to Jewish people.” 
In the final version this appeared as: “I understand that referring to Israel and Hitler as I did is deeply offensive to Jewish people, for which I apologise.”
Initial reports suggested that this latter draft was rejected by Labour Party HQ, but apparently it was only circulated internally to Shah's office. Which raises the question: Why she didn't elect to use it?

Because the language in the Buzzfeed article was very strong. It's pretty close to exactly what I would look for an apology. It doesn't flinch from the problem, it doesn't seek to isolate it, it doesn't seek to excuse it, and it promises concrete steps to tackle it that begin with the very radical act of taking Jews seriously. Had Shah come out swinging with those words, I'd have said she'd done more than demonstrate contrition. She'd have identified herself as potentially a great ally in the fight against anti-Semitism.

But for some reason she elected to go a more timorous route. And again, it's not that the apology she did give was terrible. I probably would have given it a solid if unspectacular grade. In particular, it did seem to possess the quality that was missing in the last apology I rated: the recognition that there was a gap in her knowledge, that to do right by Jews she needed to know more than she did, and a promise to try and fill that gap. But knowing what was initially on the table, it can't help but be a disappointment.

Still, published or not, Naz Shah has offered up a template of what genuine introspection over anti-Semitism on the left might look like. And I think the Jewish community should take advantage of that. If they approach Shah, it should be on the terms of the draft. Is she willing to include Jews in an intersectional struggle? Is she willing to challenge those who don't want "the concerns of Jewish individuals and communities [to be] taken seriously" and do think anti-Semitism claims can be "dismissed out of hand or ignored"? Will she tackle the "toxic" conspiracy theories that run wild about Jews? Will she demand that her party stop procrastinating on these issues?

The jury is still out, obviously. I will say that our efforts to combat anti-Semitism cannot only be about finding the evildoers and excising them from the community. There must also be efforts at reform, about getting people to change their minds, about taking people who once would happily endorse the mass deportation of Jews to America and turning them into allies. We shouldn't be sentimental about it, but we shouldn't dismiss it as a possibility either. It's possible that Naz Shah could become a genuine and valuable ally to have. The Jewish community has every right to be skeptical; as she acknowledged in her (published) apology it is up to her, in word and deed, to "win back your trust and faith in me." But maybe she will. And that would be itself a victory worth celebrating.

Grade: N/A, scoring contaminated by the presence of the alternative draft.

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