Pendle Labour councillor suspended as probe launched into alleged anti-Semitic comments

A Pendle Labour councillor has been suspended from the party amid an investigation into comments he made during a council debate on Israel-Palestinian tensions, following the violent funeral of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Aqla.

By Robbie MacDonald
Friday, 10th June 2022, 5:37 pm
Updated Friday, 10th June 2022, 5:37 pm

Coun Mohammed Iqbal has been suspended by the Labour Party amid an investigation. He denies holding any anti-Semitic views.

However, his references to Hitler and Nazi Germany's persecution of Jewish people, and his alleged comparison of that era with more recent events in Ukraine and elsewhere in the world have led to his suspension and investigation by the Labour Party.

The controversy has arisen after an emergency motion was brought before Pendle Council's recent annual meeting, condemning events at the funeral of Shireen Abu Aqla. The Middle East reporter was shot dead in May in disputed circumstances. Days later, Israel police were filmed hitting mourners at the journalist's funeral, causing international reaction and debate.

Sign up to our daily Burnley Express Today newsletter

Pendle Labour councillor Mohammed Iqbal has been suspended from the party amid an investigation into comments he made during a council debate on Israel-Palestinian tensions, following the violent funeral of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Aqla.

At Pendle Council ,a motion was put forward calling for action to find a solution to the conflict and for the Palestinian flag to be flown from Nelson Town Hall, like the Ukraine flag, as 'a symbol of solidarity with people in conflicts'.

Numerous borough councillors spoke including from the Lib-Dem and Conservative groups. The motion was unanimously supported by every single councillor across the Conservative, Labour and Lib-Dem parties. They included Conservative Leader of the Council, Coun Nadeem Ahmed, and another Conservative councillor who served with the military in Northern Ireland.

During the debate, a number of councillors stated they were not criticising the people of Israel. Their criticisms were about the Israeli government policies and police behaviour, they said. However, Coun Mohammed Iqbal's alleged comments have led to a Labour Party investigation. Nationally, the Labour Party has been involved with numerous investigations and suspensions over alleged anti-Semitic comments or views in recent times.

In a statement confirming his suspension today, June 10, Coun Iqbal said: "Following a complaint made against me to the Labour Party yesterday. alleging recent comments I made in a council meeting were anti-Semitic, I have been suspended from the Labour Party as a councillor until the matter is investigated.

"I wish to publicly state I am not anti-Semitic 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 principal 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."

During the emergency motion at Pendle Council, Labour Coun Yasser Iqbal introduced the motion. He condemned what he saw as the 'assisination' of the Al Jazeera journalist. He called for the Palestinian flag along with the Ukrainian to be flown from Nelson Town Hall 'as a symbol of solidarity with victims of all conflicts'.

He said: "The scenes at the funeral was abhorrent and a disgrace to society."

He said around 14,000 residents had been killed in Ukraine and around 32,000 in the Palestinian conflict. Other councils in the UK were discussing the situation and supporting flying of the Palestinian flag along with the Ukrainian flag, he added.

Labour Coun Zafir Ali supported the motion too along with Conservative Coun Nadeem Ahmed, who is the political Leader of Pendle Council.

Coun Ahmed said: "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. We are talking about basic things like food, water and shelter and not being allowed to be citizens in Palestine, " he alleged.

Coun Ahmed added: "If this was happening in other parts of the world, we would not allow it. This is about human beings wherever they are. We have passed a motion about Ukraine and I think it's right we support this.

"We discuss this once a year when something happens in Palestine with conflict. I think we should do something practical and long term. It need not be councillors. It could be a working group? We have a Kashmir group which did some fantastic work."

Read More

Read More
Police appeal for help to trace missing William Murphy from Barnoldswick

Lib-Dem group leader Coun David Whipp said: "What happens in Ukraine and Palestine impacts here and our diverse communities. We are representatives of our community. We should not be silent. We have a voice and we should use it. Disinformation is being spread in Ukraine and disinformation is also coming from the Israeli government."

Conservative Coun Neil Butterworth, a former British Army soldier who had served in Northern Ireland, said he would support the motion too. But he added councillors should 'not forget about Hezbollah'.

Hezbollah is an Islamist political and military group in the Middle East and viewed as a terrorist organisation by many nations and bodies.

Labour Coun Mohammed Iqbal made references to how terrorism can be seen differently, saying one man's 'terrorist' could be seen as a 'freedom fighter' by another. He also referred to Ukraine and to Hitler and Nazi Germany's persecution of Jewish people.

He said: "I have nothing against the Israeli people. My issue is with the Israeli government's behaviour."

A number of councillors said a previous Pendle Council motion on Palestine had seen some councillors absenting, by not expressing a clear opinion for or against the motion. Coun Iqbal suggested any abstentions from this motion would be a neglect of councillors' duty.

The emergency motion was supported by all councillors and the Palestinian flag was subsequently flown from Nelson Town Hall.