The Labour Party has so far declined even to comment on Barry Sheerman’s ‘silver shekel’ tweets, except to say Sheerman was sorry and had deleted them. Sheerman has apologised and admitted they were offensive:
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.
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.
But Sheerman has also said, in a message to local members that he was “intending to liken the places in the Lords as a ‘thirty pieces of silver’ type of reward” – and had gone to extra lengths to look up the currency of Israel during the time of Jesus:
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.
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.
Sheerman’s offensive comments this week are not the first time he has been criticised for offensive comments online. In 2012, he complained that his food servers had not been English:
The tweet, which remains online as of the time of writing, caused considerable outrage and led to accusations of racism:
Keir Starmer has tweeted today about racism, saying it has no place ‘online or anywhere in our society’ – but so far has not commented on Sheerman’s conduct, let alone acted to discipline him:
Starmer’s stance on racism can only be credible if he demonstrates that it applies across the board, not just against left-wing former front-benchers.
But his lack of action in the Sheerman case reinforces the impression, created by his comments on the Black Lives Matter movement, his failure to act on racism revealed in the leaked report about former Labour HQ staff and his decision to let shadow minister Steve Reed’s ‘puppet master’ comments about one of the same Jewish businessmen slide, that he is perfectly willing to be selective when it comes to so-called ‘zero tolerance’.
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