Lord Ahmed backtracks on comments of Jewish conspiracy

Lord Ahmed with Rabbi Mark Winer at the House of Lords (Photo: John Rifkin)

Lord Ahmed with Rabbi Mark Winer at the House of Lords (Photo: John Rifkin)

Controversial peer Lord Ahmed’s attempted to rehabilitate his reputation with the Jewish community this week over remarks about a Jewish conspiracy he is said to have made.

Speaking ahead of his disciplinary hearing in front of the Labour Party national executive next week, the peer gave his version of the events which have led to his latest suspension from the party.

He acknowledged that he could not remember making the remarks, but apologised unreservedly and said he would be “utterly devastated” if it was proved that he had spoken in such terms.

Lord Ahmed was suspended by Labour in March after the Times uncovered footage recorded in Pakistan in which he is said to have claimed - while speaking in Urdu - that Jewish lawyers and media were responsible for the length of a prison term he received for causing a fatal car crash.

I would be utterly devastated to know that I have said that

He was jailed for 12 weeks for dangerous driving after a collision in 2007, in which a 28-year-old man was killed.

The 55-year-old Yorkshireman said he now wanted to repair his reputation and turn his attention to working with the Jewish community on matters of common interest to Muslims - kosher and halal meat, circumcision and burial.

But he also revealed that he may leave Labour before the hearing, complaining that he has not yet been presented with the video evidence the Times used to compile its report.

“I’ve not made any decisions yet, but if I don’t have the evidence against me, why should I appear before them? Not being a Labour peer is something I am thinking about. I have been suspended twice before. Maybe it is time for me to move on somewhere else.”

Following an interfaith event at the House of Lords on Tuesday, Lord Ahmed said: “I’m not saying that I’ve never made a mistake or I’ve never said something which might have been wrong and outrageous. I’ve always admitted when I’ve done it.

“I do lots of interviews in Pakistan. I cannot recollect this particular one. It was straight after I came out of prison. I went to Pakistan to talk about the accident.

“I don’t keep copies of my interviews. I’m not a senior person. I’ve been very open and very naive. I’ve talked to people honestly and openly, sometimes controversially, about how I feel.”

He admitted that his use of the word “yahoodi” – Urdu for “Jew” – in the interview was “outrageous”, but could offer no solid explanation of what was said, or why.

In an attempt to clarify the situation, he said: “People make mistakes, people say things… It wasn’t about the Jewish community. I unreservedly apologised for using that word. One reason is because there is no translation in Urdu of ‘Zionism’.”

So had he intended to suggest his prison sentence was the result of a Zionist plot?

“No, I never said it was a plot. I have never said that at any time during my political life. It’s not what I believe.

“I think what I’m saying to you is that in this context where I was reported to have been talking about pressure from the newspapers it could have been because of the accident. It was to do with my confused, bitter situation and being in prison and coming out. It was something I wanted to forget.”

Currently his attention was on attempting to clear his name over the “Jewish conspiracy” allegation.

“I would love to get to the bottom of it,” he said. “If I can see the film then we can put it to bed. I would be utterly devastated to know that I have said that.

“The Labour Party hasn’t given me any evidence. If you are charging somebody it is their basic right to see the evidence against them. How can you defend yourself when you’ve not seen any evidence against you?”

His initial apology to Labour leader Ed Miliband and the Jewish community over the matter was rejected by communal leaders in March.

Lord Ahmed said: “I have not said anything directly against the [Jewish] community. I can’t go and address the Jewish Board of Deputies or the Community Security Trust because I don’t have any relationship with them and I’ve not said anything against them.

“I have spoken to some of my colleagues here who are of the Jewish faith and said ‘help me put this record straight’.

“I’m trying my best to correct what was reported but I do realise that this is going to take a long time, to rebuild this trust and get back to the work I used to do before.”

He added: “I don’t have a media advisor. I’m not a diplomatic person. Yorkshire people are very blunt in what they have to say.

"But I can say to you, on oath, that it is not the individual Jewish community [that I have any problem with]. From cradle to grave we have the same beliefs.

“I may have made mistakes, I’m sorry. I want to work with my faith communities where I have common things, about God, about the Prophets, about halal and kosher, about burial, about circumcision, about things we have in common.

“We will have political differences about Israel and Palestine, but not over the faith and communities. If that’s how it ever came out it was not how I intended it and I am sorry.”

Rabbi Mark Winer, a long-standing friend and former senior rabbi at the West London Synagogue, appeared alongside him at Tuesday’s Lords event.

He suggested Lord Ahmed may have made the remarks in a “moment of weakness”.

“We all have our demons, of hatred and bigotry and sexism. I assumed he had said it. Lord Ahmed hasn’t asked me for help. I wrote to him and said ‘let’s get this straight’, because this isn’t the Nazir Ahmed I know.

“I have no problem acknowledging the possibility that he might have spoken badly. People are very confusing and very complex and I was willing to accept that from him.”

Rabbi Winer said because Lord Ahmed was Britain’s first male Muslim peer, people were “looking to knock him down”. He said he hoped his friend would not “take that bait” and walk away from politics.

Last updated: 3:31pm, May 9 2013