Anti-Semitism, as is tiresomely obvious, is alive and flourishing in many distressing places, including the Parliament of the United Kingdom. There is frequent lip service from members of all of the three largest parliamentary parties that are unreservedly hostile to Israel and to Jews generally, and routinely repeat the contemporary lies agreed upon that Israel has replicated the atrocities of the Nazis and is engaging in ethnic cleansing in Palestine. The most bizarre recent incident in Westminster involves Lord Nazir Ahmed, one of three Muslim appointees of the then newly elected Tony Blair Labour government in 1998. He was born in Kashmir but raised in London and was a fishmonger before becoming a successful developer. He was also a Labour Party local official, town councillor, justice of the peace, and leader of a local Muslim community (which were almost all virtually Labour Party campaign organizations because of the perceived pro-Israeli stance of the Conservatives). He was rewarded for shepherding Muslim votes to Labour with nomination to Their Lordships' House at the age of 40.
Lord Ahmed's initial self-outing as an irrational Jew-baiter came with his book-launch party in 2005 for a notorious anti-Semite. This was followed in 2007 by his opposition to a knighthood for Salman Rushdie, whom Ahmed accused of having "blood on his hands." (Many will recall that Rushdie was the subject of a fatwa-death warrant-by the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, in 1989, over his book Satanic Verses. The fatwa has not been carried out, and the knighthood was accorded.)
In 2009, the Daily Mail's Melanie Phillips reported that Ahmed threatened to produce a mob of 10,000 demonstrators to prevent the screening in the House of Lords of a film critical of Islam by Geert Wilders. (Ahmed later denied making this threat, though he was vocal in his support of banning Wilders.) In the same year, Ahmed signed a public letter praising Turkish prime minister Erdogan for walking out in the middle of a debate with Israeli president Shimon Peres at the annual world's fair of talking shops, Davos; and he further raised eye-brows with wild and unfounded allegations that Israeli students in Britain were recruiting for the Israeli Defence Forces.
His provocations continued and escalated to his suspension from the Labour Party in 2012 because he was alleged to have placed a "bounty" of ten million pounds on Barack Obama and George W. Bush, whom he wished conveyed to the International Court of Justice in The Hague to answer charges of war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan. It was later discovered that Ahmed was misquoted and had -- rather than placing a "bounty" on the two leaders -- actually pledged to raise and offer 10 million pounds to get Tony Blair and George W. Bush to the Hague on war crimes charges. Ahmed was also criticized for allegedly claiming publicly that India and Israel were jointly conspiring in the mass murder of innocent Muslims in Kashmir and Palestine. He was not just slagging off the Jews, but also Britain's considerable East Indian community.
Even more surprising was news last week of Ahmed's suspension by the Labour Party from its peers' caucus because he had allegedly declared in Urdu in a Pakistani television interview that his conviction in 2009 and prison sentence (of which he served only 16 days of a three-month sentence), for dangerous driving, was the result of a conspiracy of Jewish media owners to influence the courts against him because of his support for Palestinians in their dispute with Israel. He also allegedly aspersed the judge who sentenced him on the grounds that the judge was notoriously friendly with a Jewish friend of the then prime minister, (the much-wronged Tony Blair again). The incident in question occurred on Christmas Day, 2007, when Ahmed drove his luxury sedan at high speed into a legally parked car while he was texting messages, killing the passenger in the other vehicle, a young man who had recently emigrated to Britain from Slovakia. The fact that he pleaded guilty to the charge makes his subsequent complaint that he had been railroaded by a Jewish-influenced judge especially implausible.
Ahmed himself is not a figure of serious account and the House of Lords is generally adorned by eccentrics, though this sort of racist, and even genocidal, vitriol is tasteless, to say the least. There are others in both houses of the British Parliament who regularly repeat the malignant canard that there is any comparison to be made between the Nazi extermination campaign against Jews and others and Israel's conduct toward Arabs in Israel or contested areas occupied by or adjoining Israel. The most egregious case is the unspeakable George Galloway, a Saddam Hussein apologist, who refuses to speak to any citizen of Israel, and was expelled from the Labour Party but was able to achieve re-election in a heavily Muslim constituency. The point is not that these extremists exist and that anti-Semitism persists -- we shall always have them with us -- but that civilized political parties tolerate these people in the Mother of Parliaments which has probably done more than any other institution in the world to propagate and exemplify freedom.
Anti-Semites have a right to speak, certainly, but not to convey the impression that they are representative of a major democratic political party in one of the world's most distinguished countries. It is hard to imagine that George Galloway, who was not really more inflammatory than Lord Ahmed, would have been given the order of the boot from the Labour Party by Tony Blair if he had been a Muslim immigrant. The Ahmed case doesn't mainly illustrate the cancer of racism in its most widespread and hackneyed variety; it represents the extent to which Muslims are a voting bloc that is starting to shift the great political parties of the United Kingdom off their moorings. As ludicrous and even comical though the Ahmed saga is, it is no less disconcerting; Westminster has scarcely been so accommodating of the mortal enemies of Jewry since the unlamented days of Edward I (1272-1307), who expelled the Jews from England in 1290. They were not invited back until Oliver Cromwell did so in 1657, in the hope that their commercial aptitudes would help to reconstruct the country after the Civil War. No such degeneration is afoot, but Britain must reassert its respect for human rights and for the social underdog, as in olden times, and cease to placate these hate-mongers. Europe and the world are watching.