Suspended Peterborough Labour councillors are not antisemitic, mosque chairman declares

Suspensions of more than a dozen Labour members, including nine Peterborough councillors, for alleged antisemitism have been criticised.

Wednesday, 5th May 2021, 4:55 am
Updated Wednesday, 5th May 2021, 10:07 am

Abdul Choudhuri chairman of the Joint Mosques Council Peterborough, said he could vouch that none of the suspended members of Muslim/Pakistan heritage are “against Judaism or anyone who is Jewish” but are instead critical of the Israeli government’s “atrocities committed against the Palestinian people”.

His views have been echoed by Jewish Voice for Labour which stands for “rights and justice for Jewish people everywhere, and against wrongs and injustice to Palestinians and other oppressed people anywhere”.

JVL has called for the suspensions to be immediately withdrawn and an investigation to be launched as to how the names found their way into the media.

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Suspended Labour councillors (clockwise from top left): Angus Ellis, Ansar Ali, Aasiyah Joseph, Shabina Qayyum, Mohammed Jamil, Samantha Hemraj and Mahboob Hussain

Labour said last week it had suspended 14 members, including seven of its councillors in Peterborough, over alleged antisemitism. This was on top of recent suspensions of two further city councillors, although the reasons behind their suspensions have not been revealed.

This means in total, nine of the party’s 17 councillors are currently being investigated, while according to JVL the overall total of Labour members suspended in Peterborough is now 19.

Mr Choudhuri’s comments were included in a letter to the Peterborough Telegraph where he also questioned the timing of the suspensions ahead of local elections.

He wrote: “Why didn’t the local Jewish community raise their concern at any time previously regarding such serious allegations and why have the leadership of political parties decided now to suspend their councillors/candidates?”

Abdul Choudhuri EMN-160228-123552009

The Conservative Party are also believed to have suspended one of their election candidates for alleged antisemitic comments, although the party has yet to official comment.

Mr Choudhuri said he has spoken to some of the suspended Labour councillors and claimed they have expressed views which were against the Israeli government rather than Jewish people.

“Criticism of the Israeli government and state is not and should not be considered antisemitic,” he added. “We should be able to criticise actions of aggression of any government against humanity.”

He also expressed a willingness to meet the Jewish Leadership Council which has been invited to the city by MP for Peterborough Paul Bristow.

Labour has not revealed specific details for why its suspended 14 members last week, but the party said in a statement: “The Labour Party takes all complaints of antisemitism extremely seriously and they are fully investigated in line with our rules and procedures, and any appropriate disciplinary action is taken.

“We are determined to root out all forms of antisemitism from our party and it is testament to our commitment to zero tolerance that we will not be influenced by an election timetable.”

JVL said in its statement to the Peterborough Telegraph that it has “stood up strongly against attempts to brand criticism of Israel as antisemitic”.

It said the North West Cambridgeshire constituency party is affiliated with JVL and that six out of eight executive officers in NW Cambs are now suspended. It added that of the 19 people suspended across both Peterborough constituencies disciplinary letters “provide no evidence of wrongdoing”.

The group, which said it does not comment on specific cases, said that it has “seen too many instances where a few problematic statements are distorted and amplified in media reports, giving a false impression of widespread hostility to Jews. This serves a factional agenda and does nothing to counter real racism against Jewish people in our society”.

Media officer Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi, who is the suspended vice-chair of the Chingford and Woodford Green constituency Labour Party, told the PT: “We believe this to be the latest move in a concerted campaign by the leadership to eliminate its opponents within the party who refuse to accept censorship of their views,”