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Fri, 4 December 2020

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Labour MP apologises for ‘run on silver shekels’ tweet after anti-semitism row

Labour MP apologises for ‘run on silver shekels’ tweet after anti-semitism row

Labour faced calls to remove the whip from the MP for Huddersfield. (Official parliamentary portrait)

3 min read

Labour MP Barry Sheerman has apologised and deleted a social media message after being accused of using “antisemitic tropes about Jews corrupting politics”.

The MP for Huddersfield faced anger after claiming there had been a “run on silver shekels” when two Jewish businessmen missed out on peerages.

He tweeted: “Apparently there has been a bit of a run on silver shekels!”

And he later added: “Apparently Richard Desmond and Philip Green were on the original list for seats in the House of Lords!”

Both men are Jewish, and there had been no suggestion either were in line for peerages when the Government unveiled the dissolution honours list on Friday.

Labour faced calls to withdraw the whip from Mr Sheerman over the string of posts.

Responding to the tweet, a Campaign Against Anti-Semitism group spokesperson said: “Barry Sheerman's first reaction on hearing that two prominent Jewish businessmen supposedly missed out on peerages is to think about 'silver shekels', alluding in one fell swoop to both classic and modern antisemitic tropes about Jews corrupting politics with money and being more loyal to Israel than their own countries.

“Mr Sheerman must immediately face disciplinary proceedings and lose the whip of both the Labour and Co-operative Parties.”

They added: “Sir Keir Starmer also has a more fundamental question to answer about his parliamentary party: how long are Labour MPs capable of going without making brazenly anti-Semitic statements? 

“Labour's anti-Semitism problem apparently goes well beyond the Party's far-left contingent.”

The Huddersfield MP has now deleted the tweets and issued an apology.

He said: "I apologise for my earlier tweet. I did not intend the meaning which has upset many, and I am very sorry for the upset and offense I have caused.

"I will think more carefully in future and will reflect on this."

And he added: "I have fought anti-semitism all my political life and have been a Labour Friend of Israel since joining as a student at the LSE. 

“I am deeply sorry that my clumsy tweet has caused offence."

Mr Sheerman also sent a message to his local Labour party, attempting to explain the row by saying he had been “intending to liken the places in the Lords as a ‘thirty pieces of silver’ type of reward”.

He added: "This alone is an unpleasant thing to say but I tried to be too clever and looked up the currency that might have been used 2,000 years ago, and found information suggesting it was the shekel.

"I used this in my comment. In a separate comment, I also chose two rich businessmen who have received negative press attention as examples of the types of people being raised to the Lords by the government.

"It never entered my head when I was making that comment that the two people I mentioned were Jewish.”

Mr Sheerman added: "I can see how offensive my comments have been, given this, and I am profoundly sorry. 

“It was never my intention to make any implication about Jewish people, and I am horrified that I inadvertently did so.”

A spokesperson for the Labour Party said: “Barry has deleted the tweets and apologised. He deeply regrets the offence caused.”

The row comes after Sir Keir sacked frontbencher Rebecca Long-Bailey for sharing an article described as containing an “antisemitic conspiracy theory”.

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