Were you shocked by Naz Shah’s outbursts on social media? Were you baffled that an aspiring MP would call to “relocate” (that is, destroy and deport) Israel to America? Did you baulk, wondering why on earth a self-respecting politician would ask supporters to vote in an online poll because “the Jews are rallying”?
Don’t be. Because Naz Shah, and everything she said, is normal politics in Bradford.
Had Britain a writer as dark and politically incorrect as Michel Houellebecq, the French author of the dystopian novel Submission, in which France converts to Islam, he would, without doubt, set his first novel in Bradford. This would be his dystopian plot.
Along comes a by-election. A dark and unknowable force with a Dickensian name – Mister Galloway – descends on the unsuspecting, segregated, depressed Northern town. Suddenly he is everywhere, the white Scotsman, and the large and miserable Muslim population apparently think that by voting for him – a total outsider – they can change the course of conflict in the Middle East. That one vote, for Mister Galloway for MP, is the revolution itself – one that can start the march to liberate Jerusalem. And, blowing away the crusty, corrupt old Labour party, this man in a fedora convinces a dead, former mill town – utterly, utterly, irrelevant to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – that it is as central to the politics of the Middle East as Beirut.
But there is no need for a British Houellebecq (sadly, as I would readily volunteer); all this has already come to pass.
George Galloway became Bradford West’s MP in 2012. By the time I started visiting the town in 2015, as a reporter for Jewish magazine Tablet, he had made local politics about Palestine. I contacted all the candidates vying to replace him. Most had photos exhibiting themselves at pro-Palestine rallies. One Labour hopeful responded, rather bizarrely, to my request for an interview with a video of herself speaking at a pro-Palestine rally. Naz Shah herself, whom I contacted over Twitter, stopped responding to me when I explained Tablet was a Jewish publication.
Within months, every local candidate was imitating the man in the fedora. Across town, in the constituency of Bradford East, the Liberal Democrat MP David Ward was using Twitter to question how long the “apartheid state of Israel” could last, and tweeting that he too would probably “fire a rocket” if he lived in Gaza. Later, he declared himself “#JeSuis #Palestinian” in the wake of the Paris terrorist attacks on a kosher supermarket, after the Charlie Hebdo massacre.
Swept up into his absurdistan – as Respect Party double-deckers hooted around Bradford, as teenage Gallowites tweeted like machine guns about "Zionists", Palestine and "#BradfordRising" – Naz Shah voted for the grinning Mister Galloway in 2012.
It appeared to me that she came to loathe him, to resent his perceived manipulation of working class Muslims, to worry about his West London lifestyle, part-funded by his appearances on Russia Today.And it was Naz Shah that beat him in 2015.
But, as her gross social media posts show, the ‘outsider’ – gone like a bad dream from Bradford the night the ballots came in for Shah – had also shaped her, just like he has shaped all other Bradford politicians.
When it comes to anti-Semitic comments, Shah is not even the worst offender. In 2014, former councillor Istiaq Ahmed, who works at the charity Shah chairs, posted on social media “Is Kosher slaughter in the Eternal Jew accurate?” – a link to an anti-Semitic propaganda movie originally commissioned by Goebbels. The YouTube channel that hosted it? ”HitlerMyFuhrer”.
The former Lord Mayor of Bradford Khadim Hussain commented on Facebook that Israel was “no doubt” arming Isis, and shared another Facebook post that complained that the deaths of millions of Africans are not taught in schools but “your school education system only tells you about Anne Frank and the six million Zionists that were killed by Hitler”. The list goes on and on.
And when I visited Bradford, a group of passionate Galloway supporters pinned me to a wall, throttled me and punched me in the head, shouting “Get out you f***ing Jew.” Just par for the course in Bradford.