Antisemitism in Political Parties

Zarah Sultana

 2019-present: Labour Member of Parliament for Coventry South

Incidents

  1. On an unknown date in March 2015, Zarah Sultana reportedly wrote on social media regarding a Jewish student who was attempting to stand as a Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) student leader: “Everyone sees how problematic it is for white people to run for positions representing BME students. Except white people.”
  1. On an unknown date in 2016, Ms Sultana reportedly wrote on Facebook: “The Labour Right are scum and genuinely make me sick. Is there any form of discrimination that they won’t weaponise to politically point score like they’ve done in the past with antisemitism and now with homophobia?”
  1. On an unknown date, Ms Sultana reportedly wrote on Facebook, regarding a Jewish student who appears to have been standing as an Ethnic Minorities Officer in an NUS election: “I can’t believe this YT thinks she can represent us.” She subsequently reportedly wrote: “Yay, the white woman didn’t win the Ethnic Minorities Officer Election!”

    “YT” (phonetically ‘whitey’) is a slang expression for a white person often used in a pejorative manner by people who wish to stress their own non-white heritage.

  1. On an unknown date, Ms Sultana reportedly wrote: “Those within the student movement who go to Zionist conferences and trips should be ashamed of themselves. You’re advocating racist ideology.”
  1. On 14th November 2019, further comments made by Ms Sultana were exposed: in one tweet she wrote: “Speaking of history repeating itself, Jewish Holocaust 1939-1945 & Muslim Holocaust (Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine, Chechnya etc) now? Mhm.”

Analysis

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

A modern formulation of anti-Jewish discrimination, in particular on university campuses, designates Jews as ‘white’, according to the hierarchical understanding of disadvantage conceived within the framework of intersectional or identity politics. In addressing Jews using the derogatory slur “YT” (‘whitey’) [1] [3], Ms Sultana was therefore casting Jews as a group who do not suffer discrimination, but are, rather, more likely to occupy a privileged role, or the role of oppressors. By promoting this claim, therefore, she was “making mendacious, dehumanising, demonising, or stereotypical allegations about Jews…”

Additionally, by using the term “YT” as a derogatory slur [3], she was “expressing hatred towards Jews”.

By alleging that accusations of antisemitism had been “weaponised” by the “Labour right” (amongst which Jewish MPs will necessarily be included, as they have been prominent among those who have claimed there is antisemitism in the Labour Party) for the purpose of “political point [scoring]” [2], she 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 in cases where there is clear evidence that there have been breaches of the International Definition of Antisemitism. In doing so, she was further “making mendacious, dehumanising, demonising, or stereotypical allegations about Jews…”

Zionism is an expression of national self-determination for Jews, and since the establishment of the State of Israel, of support for the maintenance of that State. We note the words of the Labour Party’s own guidance, particularly where it states that: “…for many Jews, Zionism represents national liberation. The concepts of Israel, Zion and Jerusalem run deeply in Jewish religion, identity and culture, and…are symbolic of a homeland, refuge, or place of safety. The sensitivities around these concepts should be considered before using them.”

The allegation that Zionism is an inherently racist ideology was promulgated by the Soviet Union as part of a deliberate and explicitly antisemitic campaign to persecute Jewish citizens who wished to practise their religion and/or leave the Soviet Union (especially to emigrate to Israel), as well as to demonise and undermine Israel on the foreign stage. A singular purpose of this propaganda was to drive a false distinction between “Jews” and “Zionists”, in which the latter is the enemy of the former. By having asserted that Zionism is a racist ideology [4], therefore, Ms Sultana was further “making mendacious, dehumanising, demonising, or stereotypical allegations about Jews…”

By describing Zionism as a “racist ideology” [4], she was casting the State of Israel as illegitimate, thus “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination (e.g. by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour).”

By making a direct comparison between between the Holocaust and Muslim Palestinian deaths [5], she was “Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.”

Outcome

On 4th November 2019, Ms Sultana’s comments in [1] and [4] were reported in the media; it was additionally reported that she had said she would “celebrate” the deaths of Tony Blair, Benjamin Netanyahu and George Bush; that she had expressed support for “violent resistance” by Palestinians against Israelis, and that she had written: “There will come a time in the near future where those [who] lobby for Israel feel the same shame and regret as South African apartheid supporters.”

It was further reported that Ms Sultana had expressed contrition for her comments about world leaders, saying: “Today I was shown tweets from a deleted account dating back several years from when I was a student. This was written out of frustration rather than any malice. I was a young activist exasperated by endless cycles of global suffering, violence and needless killing resulting from decisions by political leaders, from the Iraq war to the killing of over 2,000 Palestinians in 2014, mostly civilians, which was condemned by the United Nations. I do not support violence and I should not have articulated my anger in the manner I did, for which I apologise.”

On 5th November 2019, her comments in [3] were reported in the media. Hannah Sharron, a former Union of Jewish Students communications officer, was reported as saying of Ms Sultana’s conduct whilst at Birmingham University: “Zarah was among a group [of] students on campus committed to defending Palestine and who directed this at Jewish students. It meant we felt uncomfortable in participating in any of the structures of university life, or in the student union [sic] where we should have been able to represent ourselves and our peers.”

A new statement by Ms Sultana was reportedly released, in which she said: “BAME structures bring together all people who experience different forms of racism. I support Labour’s BAME structures and their inclusivity of all people, including Jewish people, who experience racism. At university, I used insensitive language when trying to articulate the need for a specific campaign for students who experience racism based on the colour of their skin, such as racist stop and searches on campuses and the attainment gap. I should have been more inclusive and I shouldn’t have used the language I did. I am genuinely sorry for having done so.”

On 5th November 2019, her comment in [2] was reported in the media, and Ms Sultana was reported as having apologised, saying: “This message was from a number of years ago, before the narrative had gained the traction it has now dismissing deeply-felt concerns about anti-semitism [sic] in the party as ‘smears’, in which the word ‘weaponised’ is often used. I absolutely reject that narrative and, as Jeremy [Corbyn] has said, I believe that anyone says it’s ‘all a smear’, is wrong and is contributing to the problem. I would not use the word weaponise today and apologise for having done so.”

On 7th November 2019, it was reported that Ms Sultana was facing deselection as a candidate, having been summoned for a further interview with Labour’s ruling National Executive Committee (NEC).

On 8th November 2019, the Editor of the Politics Home news website reported that the NEC had confirmed Ms Sultana’s candidacy. Ms Sultana held her campaign launch that evening.

On 14th November 2019, Ms Sultana’s tweet in [5] was disclosed on Twitter by the Political Editor of LBC, alongside further tweets in which she told another Twitter user who was “pro-Israel” to “jump off a cliff”; stated her belief in a one-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians, but claimed that “Zionists will not willingly assimilate with Palestinians”; and said: “Once I changed my name on Facebook to Zarah Doofenshmirtz and my dad told my mom I had become a Jew and she was p****d.”

On 15th November 2019, it was reported that Ms Sultana had published a statement on Twitter in which she said: “I am sorry that I posted these offensive comments on social media as a teenager. I was young and immature and the language I used was wrong. Through my political activism I have been on a journey which has included working closely with Jewish comrades who have taught me about the language and history of antisemitism.” We note that Ms Sultana, who is now only 26, was apparently referring in her apology to the tweets revealed by LBC, including [5]. However, her other statements were posted while an adult at university. We further note that these were posted after her visit to Auschwitz in 2013, a trip which she claimed had left her determined “never to minimise the suffering of Jewish people.”

On 12th December 2019, Ms Sultana was elected to Parliament.

We do not know whether disciplinary action has been taken by the Labour Party against Ms Sultana, and at the time of writing, on 26th November 2019, we have no record of any. However, the circumstances and outcomes of any such action would remain unknown, owing to the conditions of secrecy imposed by Baroness Chakrabarti’s report on antisemitism in the Labour Party.

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

Rating

Campaign Against Antisemitism has rated the Party’s handling of this matter as “bad”. Our rating system is explained in our methodology. This case was last updated on 13th May 2020.

Justice, justice, you shall pursue - צדק צדק תרדף
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