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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 September 2018

Labour suspends Qatar-linked council candidate

Sameh Habeeb dropped from May election over alleged “anti-Semitism”

Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn outside his home in London. Toby Melville / Reuters
Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn outside his home in London. Toby Melville / Reuters

A Palestinian activist linked to a pro-Qatari group has been suspended from running as a Labour council candidate in London over allegations of “anti-Semitic” comments, the latest setback for Jeremy Corbyn and an opposition party plagued by charges of racism.

Journalist Sameh Habeeb, 32, has previously been associated with a mysterious pro-Qatar group called the London Centre for Public Affairs, which lobbied British MPs to boycott a 2017 Qatari opposition conference organised by exiled dissident Khalid Al-Hail. The PR company’s phone was disconnected on Friday, the London address listed on its website is a construction site and LCPA didn’t answer The National’s email.

The Labour party didn’t respond to calls and emails asking about Mr Habeeb’s suspension as the candidate for London’s Northwood Hills ward. The move came after the Sunday Telegraph newspaper reported alleged “anti-Semitic” comments he reportedly made in 2010 as well as controversial news stories published when Mr Habeeb was editing The Palestinian Telegraph newspaper.

The claims were first raised by the Community Security Trust, a UK government-backed organisation that defends members of the Jewish community from attacks and allegations. The CST had no comment on Friday.

Mr Habeeb rejected allegations of anti-Semitism calling the suspension the “normal procedure” during Labour Party investigations. He also said he was on the “forefront in the fight against anti-Semitism” while working as a news editor.

“I totally reject that criticism of Israeli policy is anti-Semitic. The accusations against me fall within the wider context of the anti-Labour campaign against Jeremy Corbyn,” Mr Habeeb said.

The anti-Semitism scandal has rocked the Labour party. More than 1,500 people crowded into Parliament Square in March for an unprecedented display of public anger over how the Labour party has handled accusations of anti-Semitism.

More than 1,000 cases of alleged anti-Semitism have been referred to the party for investigation since Labour Against Antisemitism began reporting their concerns in June 2016, the group’s spokesman Euan Philipps said. Seventy-four investigations are reportedly still live.

Even Mr Phillips’ Labour Against Antisemitism group doesn’t know the exact number or status of investigations.

“The whole process is shrouded in secrecy,” Mr Phillips said.

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For his part, Mr Habeeb said he would fight to clear his name in relation to claims of anti-Semitism.

“I fought anti-Semitic writers and censored them and banned them from writing on the Palestine Telegraph. This was not reported and I was intentionally showed as anti-Semitic,” he said.

Mr Habeeb is now running the British Academy For Training & Development, which offers short-term courses in media, IT, accounting and other disciplines. He is also linked to several other companies, including London and Mayfair Estate Agents, where he is a director.

Until March, Mr Habeeb was head of communications at the London-based Palestinian Return Centre.

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