Tory council leader says pro-Palestinian protests must ‘go a stage further’

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Tory council leader says pro-Palestinian protests must ‘go a stage further’

Nadeem Ahmed, leader of Pendle Council, which raised the Palestinian flag over its town hall, made call as Labour councillor mentioned 'Hitler' discussing Ukraine and Palestine

Lee Harpin is the Jewish News's political editor

Leader of Pendle Council Nadeem Ahmed
Leader of Pendle Council Nadeem Ahmed

The leader of a Conservative-run council in Lancashire has called for anti-Israel activity in the local area “to go a stage further” than flying the Palestinian flag on the roof of the town hall.

Urging local councillors and residents to take part in what he described as “proactive” action, Tory Group leader Nadeem Ahmed told a meeting of Pendle Borough Council that Israel was guilty of carrying out acts that would not be tolerated anywhere else in the world.

His comments came during a meeting in which a Labour councillor  appeared to compare “what is going on in Ukraine, Palestine, and other areas” with Nazi era Germany.

Labour’s  Cllr Mohammed Iqbal told the May 19 meeting: “Many people in this room will remember what justification Hitler had for what he did to the Jews in the Second World War … and there are a number of governments across the world at this moment in time, I think, trying to do the same.”

No other councillor inside the meeting raised any objection to his remarks.

On Thursday, Labour suspended Cllr Iqbal, who denies holding antisemitic views, pending an investigation into the remarks made after an emergency motion was brought before Pendle Council’s recent annual meeting.

The motion had been tabled by the Labour councillor in the wake of the tragic death of Al Jazeera journalist Shereen Abu Aqleh who was working in the West Bank.

Mohammed Iqbal. Pendle Council. May 2022.

During discussions about the complex issue in the Middle East, a succession of local councillors attempted to suggest the proposal to raise the Palestinian flag over Nelson town hall was not in fact a political one.

Tory Group leader Cllr Ahmed told the meeting the flag flying was not about “religion, colour, gender, age… this is about human beings.”

Jewish News has watched a recording of the meeting at which all 32 councillors present at the meeting  – 17 Tory, 11 Labour and four Lib Dem – voted in favour of the Palestinian flag motion, which had been tabled by the Labour group leader Mohammed Iqbal.

The motion included the line: “Council agrees to fly the flag of Palestine alongside the Ukrainian flag from council buildings to show solidarity with all those innocent victims of these conflicts.”

Cllr Ahmed said flying the Palestinian flag to fly above the town hall in Nelson would “send a clear message to the public to raise awareness of the conflict… we have a duty to raise awareness of human rights abuses”.

He added:”If this sort of behaviour happened elsewhere in the world, would it be tolerated?”

The council leader said Palestinians are being denied “basic human rights, food, water and shelter” before adding the flag-raising exercise was not in itself enough.

“I would want to go a stage further,” said Cllr Ahmed. “We discuss this when something happens in the Palestine conflict.

“I think we should be taking a more proactive approach, something practical and long-term.”

Ahmed claimed he was not attacking the majority of Israeli people, who he said are “good people”.

He added: “We had a similar motion about Palestine last year. This is not about the Israeli people. They are good people. This is about a small amount of people and a government inflicting abuse on people.”

He then called for local citizens and councillors to form a working group to continue raising the issue locally and nationally.

Tory councillors later posted messages on Facebook praising Cllr Amed for his “leadership” over the decision to fly the Palestinian flag at the town hall.

Jewish News can also reveal that one of the Tory councillors to support the flag raising exercise in Pendle, Mohammed Aslam, had previously been exposed for antisemitic social media posts – including sharing an article claiming former Jewish Labour MP Ruth Smeeth “was funded by (the) Israel lobby” and a further post claiming a Jewish professor had admitted “Islam is the only true religion.”

After the posts came to light in 2018, the Conservatives said they would launch an investigation into Cllr Aslam’s conduct. It is not known what action was taken, but he is back on the council again today.

Meanwhile also speaking at last month’s Pendle council meeting was Lib Dem Group deputy leader David Whipp who said he wanted to draw a “parallel” between “the aggression” of Russian leader Vladimir Putin and “I am afraid to say, disinformation that is coming out of Israel”.

He added: “What happens in Ukraine and Palestine impacts here and our diverse communities. We are representatives of our community. We should not be silent.”

Another Tory councillor Neil Butterworth said: “Let us not forget every nation has terrorists, Hezbollah… but that is not Palestine. I will be voting for this motion.”

In a statement confirming his suspension Cllr Iqbal said: “Following a complaint made against me to the Labour Party yesterday. alleging recent comments I made in a council meeting were antisemitic, I have been suspended from the Labour Party as a councillor until the matter is investigated.

“I wish to publicly state I am not antisemitic and have campaigned all my life against all forms of racism and sexism and will continue to do so. I will work with the Labour Party and anyone else to uphold the principle of everyone living side-by-side in peace and harmony. I am still available to serve the public as a councillor with casework and issues affecting the local area.”

Jewish News has contacted the Tory Party for comment on what punishment Cllr Aslam received at the time, and also for comment on the call by current council leader Cllr Ahmed for anti-Israel protests to “go a stage further” in the region.

The Jewish Rep Council of Manchester had earlier issued a statement saying the “flying of Palestinian flags from town halls is divisive and harms community cohesion”.

Pendle Council have vowed to fly the Palestinian and Ukrainian flag again from the town hall after the Union Jack was flown during the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations.

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