A Labour parliamentary candidate has withdrawn from standing in the general election following accusations that he used the insulting term “Shylock” at a meeting where a Jewish councillor was present.
Gideon Bull, a councillor from the London borough of Haringey, was supposed to be the party’s parliamentary candidate in the Essex seaside town of Clacton in December.
He has withdrawn from standing for the seat after referring to the villainous Shakespearean Jewish moneylender at a meeting in July that included a Jewish Labour councillor. He denies any intention to insult but has apologised for making the remark.
Labour is investigating a complaint from Bull’s fellow councillor, the deputy council leader, Zena Brabazon.
The Shylock character is perhaps best known for lending money to a rival on the condition that if it was not repaid, Shylock would take a pound of the rival’s flesh.
The alleged antisemitic incident occurred at a meeting of cabinet members in July at which plans for the redevelopment of council-owned land in south Tottenham, known as the Red House scheme, were discussed.
Bull told the Guardian he made the comment in a clumsy attempt to describe a person who relentlessly tries to get what they want.
“I’m standing down because I don’t want anything to deflect from the fact that Clacton has had years of neglect under the Tories. It was an honest mistake. The fact that there was a Jewish councillor in the room had no bearing on me saying it.”
Bull claims he did not realise the character from The Merchant of Venice was Jewish and said he would have known if his schooling had been better.
“I grew up in a working class area in Ilford where this was a common saying, but I didn’t know it was offensive. This was a genuine accident and I reiterate my sincere apology for this mistake,” he said.
“If the education system had been better under Margaret Thatcher, I might have known.”
In March 2018, Brabazon was among several Jewish Labour members in Haringey who signed a letter to the Guardian from the organisation Jewish Voice for Labour, which argued against the view that Haringey Labour is not a safe space for Jews. The letter said that “nothing could be further from the truth”, and that although antisemitic comments were made in the Labour party and should be stopped, “this is no different nor more frequent than in wider society”.
She has been approached for comment.