Labour Tower Hamlets Councillor suspended after appearing on 5Pillars show

Puru Miah on The Big Picture

A few days after he appeared on a 5Pillars show, Muslim Labour Tower Hamlets Councillor Puru Miah has been suspended for a Facebook post he made in 2014.

Miah, who represents the Mile End ward, appeared on The Big Picture show on November 18 and shortly afterwards received an official letter of suspension from Labour warning him about an investigation into his conduct over claims of antisemitism.

Miah shared a post on Facebook in 2014 (before he was a Labour member) about a book called “The Invention of the Jewish People” by Israeli historian Shlomo Sand. The book argues that most modern Jews descend from converts whose native lands were scattered across the Middle East and Eastern Europe, rather than Israel.

Puru Miah’s 2014 The post said: “‘The invention of the Jewish people’ by Israeli historian Shlomo Sand’” is an “absolutely ‘must read’ for everyone who wants truth and justice for Palestine/Israel. The essential historical evidence will amaze you – there is no factual basis whatsoever for a Jewish race, nation or homeland, it is all a recently invented propaganda called ‘Zionism’.”

The pro-Israel Jewish News, which initially broke the story, also reported that Miah “shared posts on his Facebook page appearing on the Muslim news site 5Pillars, alongside its editor Roshan Salih.”

The Jewish News went onto say” “Salih caused outrage in the Jewish community after saying an interfaith Mitzvah Day chicken soup cook-a-thon was ‘Zionist infiltration’. He also called for a boycott of an exhibition on Muslim heroes of the Holocaust, and previously hosted Ken Livingstone on Holocaust Memorial Day, where he asked him if the Shoah had been ‘exploited to oppress others’?”

Apology 

Following his suspension Puru Miah issued a statement unreservedly apologising for the hurt caused.

He said: “Looking back at the post, I am embarrassed, given the current context of anxieties in the Jewish community and the backdrop of rising prejudices against minority communities. The situation filled me with regret and I have removed the private Facebook post. It falls far below the standards expected of a Labour Councillor, representing diverse communities of all faiths and backgrounds.

“I rejoined the Labour Party in 2015 at the encouragement of a prominent Jewish member who describes himself as a Zionist, he remains my closest confidant and mentor. I ask people to look at my record in community cohesion and interfaith work with Jewish and other faith communities. The most high profile being an interfaith event in Parliament, titled Cable Street 2 Brick Lane, where members of the Muslim and Jewish community broke the fast of Ramadan together in 2016.

Puru Miah

“As a proponent of the MacPherson Principles, I welcome the complaint and defend the rights of complainants. I look forward to this matter being investigated and resolved through an independent complaint’s procedure as recommended by the EHRC.

“As a Labour Councillor, I have taken great pride in working across ethnic, religious, factional and party divides, to meet the needs of the community I serve. This purpose is probably not best served by the writings of the Israeli historian and Professor Emeritus, at Tel Aviv University, Shlomo Sand. While his ideas are commonplace among historians, they provoke controversy and sometimes indignation when they surface beyond the scholarly world.

“The SOAS Centre for Jewish Studies hosted Professor Sands for an event titled “How I stopped being a Jew,’ held in October 2014. As a SOAS Alumni, and in anticipation of the event I began reading Professor Sand’s Israeli best-seller ‘The Invention of the Jewish People”. My Facebook post in August 2014 is copied and pasted text from the publicity surrounding the book, with a link to the book. The quote in the post was a comic and gross trivialisation of the book, it inevitably appears stupid and offensive. The message and reception of the book outside of scholarly circles are best captured by the Guardian’s Rafael Behr’s 2010 interview with Professor Sand:

“Sand’s detractors portray the book as an assault on Jewish identity and the legitimacy of Israel. But he sees it as the opposite: an attempt to rescue Jewish-Israeli identity from an intellectual abyss and redeem Israeli society with a healthy dose of secular rationalism. ‘I wrote the book for a double purpose. First, as an Israeli, to democratise the state; to make it a real republic. Second, I wrote the book against Jewish essentialism.’”

Labour Islamophobia

Meanwhile, 5Pillars editor Roshan Muhammed Salih said Puru Miah’s suspension has vindicated his belief that Muslims have no place in the Labour Party.

He said: “I find it highly convenient that Puru Miah has been suspended from Labour just a few days after appearing on my show, even though his appearance was not the official reason for the suspension. It’s perfectly clear to me that the Labour Party is launching a witch-hunt against its members who express support for the Palestinian cause and dare criticise Israel, and it’s also clear to me that hard-core supporters of Apartheid Israel hate 5Pillars with a passion.

“So I think Labour is sending a message to its Muslim and pro-Palestine members: shut your mouth when it comes to Israel/Palestine and don’t go anywhere near 5Pillars. The irony is that Puru Miah came onto my show to defend the Labour Party and encourage Muslims to remain within the fold, while I argued the opposite. I will leave it to Muslims to decide who was right and who was wrong.”

Miah’s appearance on 5Pillars came a few days after a report found huge levels of dissatisfaction and distrust in the Labour Party by its own Muslim members and supporters.

The report, commissioned by the Labour Muslim Network, found that 46% of Muslim members and supporters believe the Labour Party does not represent the Muslim community effectively, whereas only 29% feel that it does.

The survey also found that 59% of Muslim members and supporters do not feel “well represented by the leadership of the Labour Party.” And 55% said they do not “trust the leadership of the Labour Party to tackle Islamophobia effectively.”

Regarding Puru Miah’s case, a Labour Party spokesperson said: “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.”

Labour leader Keir Starmer has said the party takes Islamophobia seriously and is committed to eradicating it.

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