Salma Yaqoob reflects the grip of antisemitism over the Labour Party

There have been calls from many in the Jewish community, The Board of Deputies of British Jews (BOD) and others for the suspension of the Labour Mayoral candidate for Birmingham, Salma Yaqoob. The response is covered in a Jewish Chronicle article here and you can see the response from the Board of Deputies, President Marie van der Zyl below.

Ms van der Zyl called Yaqoob’s claim that Israelis are European colonisers

“A calculated insult to the thousands who fled to Israel having survived the Holocaust and the hundreds of thousands more who arrived in Israel having been persecuted by Arab states.”

She added “no-one who refers to Jews as ‘pigs’ could possibly be considered for high office by any reputable party. Labour must withdraw her from the shortlist for West Midlands Mayor and expel her immediately.”

This was in response to a video that surfaced recently in which it has been claimed Yaqoob peddled conspiracy theories against the State of Israel and has been accused of blatant antisemitism. Yaqoob has also tweeted an article in 2013 describing in lurid antisemitic language about 10 Rothschilds bankers being arrested in Iceland. For many years’ conspiracies around the Rothschilds have been a common antisemitic trope, based on the idea of rich Jews buying political power and rigging international banking in the interests of Jews against everyone else. This has no basis in fact, but that Yaqoob promoted this on her own Twitter account raises serious questions over whether she should be anywhere near elected politics.

The issue of Yaqoob’s record on antisemitism came to the fore, when she spoke at the May 2019 Al Quds Day. This is a rally created by the Iranian regime to celebrate the Iranian revolution and run by the notoriously antisemitic Islamic Human Rights Commission in the UK. In the past this annual rally has resembled an antisemitic hate fest, where Hezbollah Flags until they were recently banned were held aloft and antisemitic comments made. Muslims Against Semitism Co-Ordinator Stephen Hoffman revealed the dubious history of Al Quds Day and its organiser here.

At the rally she questioned the legitimacy of Israel hosting the Eurovision Song Contest saying:

“For years [they] have pretended to be Europeans. The only link is they’re European colonisers.”

This is an example of antisemitism, based on presenting Jews as privileged whites who are part of the elites and use allegations of antisemitism as a tactic to shut debate down. This ignores that many Jews across the world including the UK are Mizrahi Jews, which means they come from the Middle East. There are also many Jews from the Maghreb and many black Jews. The idea that Jews are privileged white Europeans is based on a lie to promote a negative image of Jews.

Yaqoob went on to add another layer to the antisemitic tirade by referring to Israel as a pig. The pig which is not kosher has been used for years as antisemitic imagery.

Labour Against Anti-Semitism (LAAS) in response to Yaqoob stated

“It is beyond belief that she has been shortlisted as a potential candidate for the Mayor of West Midlands, a region with a proud history of tolerance and multiculturalism.”

Yaqoob is no stranger to controversy. She is already a disgraced political figure for her campaign in 2017 as the Respect Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for the 2017 General Election. In this election she was pitted against the current Labour MP for Bradford West, Naz Shah.

Such was the vile nature of how Yaqoob campaigned, Shah was left feeling suicidal. and the Chief Opinion Writer for the Observer, Sonia Sodha wrote about Yaqoob’s toxic campaign in this piece.

Shah herself has spoken movingly about how she was made to feel in this Twitter thread.

A tactic Yaqoob used against Shah was to introduce sectarian politics by attempting to divide the vote along religious grounds when she made reference to Shah not wearing the hijab.

Consequently, its unsurprising surprise that Labour MP Ruth Smeeth in relation to Yaqoob joining the Party said:

“I personally think Salma Yaqoob has no place in our movement, not least because of her behaviour towards Naz Shah in 2017.”

Whilst momentum is building to expel Yaqoob from the Labour Party, it is worrying that she was even allowed to join, let alone be selected to be the next Labour Mayor for the West Midlands. Her record was a matter of public knowledge, which those in Labour in charge of choosing who should be on the short list should have been aware of.

It is important to note that Yaqoob isn’t necessarily the problem per se, but rather a symptom of the Labour Party’ lack of leadership on rising antisemitism in the party since Jeremy Corbyn became Labour Party leader in 2015. Indeed, it has become such a problem that the Equalities and Human Rights Commission is currently sifting through numerous submissions on examples of antisemitism in the Labour Party, as part of its inquiry in to antisemitism in the Labour Party.

Since Jeremy Corbyn became Labour Party leader, antisemitism has increased in the UK. Although its not solely due to the rising antisemitism in the Labour Party given the rise in far-right antisemitism, it has been a significant factor.

The Community Security Trust (CST) reported a 10% increase in antisemitic incidents in the first half of this year, totaling 892. That is the highest figure the CST has ever recorded for antisemitic incidents for the first half of the year and a 10% rise on the 810 antisemitic incidents from January to June 2018.

The highest monthly totals in the first half of 2019 were February and March, with 182 and 169 antisemitic incidents respectively. These are the joint-fourth and sixth highest monthly totals ever recorded by CST. They occurred when issues relating to Jews and antisemitism were prominent in news and politics due to the continuing controversy over antisemitism in the Labour Party.

February saw several MPs leave the Labour Party, some of whom cited antisemitism as a prominent reason for their decision.  

There was also a 46% rise in online hate against Jews compared to the first six months of 2018. High levels of online antisemitism happened during periods in which antisemitism was high on the political agenda within the Labour Party. You can see the CST report in full here.

Where Labour was once the natural home for Jews for many, it has now left many feeling homeless. In September 2018 data from polling carried out by Survation for the Jewish Chronicle showed that 85.6% of British Jews believe that there are high or very high levels of antisemitism at all levels in the Labour Party. This has risen from a similar poll for the Jewish Chronicle by Survation in 2017, where the number was 69%.

This trend of Jews feeling that antisemitism is an ongoing serious problem in the Labour Party is supported by the October 2019 poll by Survation for the Jewish Chronicle. The polling results revealed 78% of British Jews surveyed would prefer a no deal Brexit to a Jeremy Corbyn Government.

Commenting on the poll Wes Streeting, the Labour MP for Ilford North stated:

“I’m afraid this poll reflects what I hear on the doorstep in my own community, but seeing it so starkly presented is devastating – not least for significant numbers of Jews who clearly want to vote Labour but can’t because of Jeremy Corbyn

Given our very public failure to tackle antisemitism within our ranks who can blame them?”

For decades Jews were driven from their homes, massacred, portrayed as puppeteers controlling the banks, the media and global politics. Alongside these forms of antisemitism, we also see Jews being questioned if they’re Europeans, should be allowed to take part in singing competitions and referred to as pigs. We learn nothing from history if we don’t challenge this and beat it.

I firmly believe if you replace Jews with any other race there would be more outcry at what is happening in the Labour Party, but it seems too many believe that antisemitism against Jews is not as important as hate against other minorities.

If the Labour Party are serious about tackling antisemitism, it must look more closely at its leadership, which appears to be a magnet for antisemites. If, as some do, claim the leadership isn’t attracting antisemites, then it is utterly failing at tackling them. Due to this it is losing many Jewish party members and Jewish allies who abhor the grip antisemitism has over the Labour Party.

Either way, this situation is untenable and the Jewish community should not be made to feel like the Labour Party and the UK is no longer their home. Sadly, that sorry state of affairs won’t change whilst people like Salma Yaqoob are not only allowed to be members of the party, but election candidates.


Wasiq is an educational and political analyst. His areas of expertise include government policy, countering hateful extremism and social cohesion.

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