By Jenni Frazer for Jewish News April 15 2016
ANXIOUS RESIDENTS told would-be candidates for the London Assembly this week that there were areas of their borough where a man wearing a kippah “would start a riot” and in which Jewish women felt frightened to walk.
The sometimes passionate exchanges took place at a hustings organised by the London Jewish Forum, held at the Redbridge Jewish Community Centre. But while the audience turn-out was relatively high – around 60 people – the same could not be said for the panel.
The Conservative candidate, Keith Prince, was not available, and the former MP for Ilford North, Lee Scott, stood in for him. Lawrence Webb, the UKIP candidate, failed to show up, despite messages that he was on his way. Scott was joined on the panel by Lee Burkwood for the Green Party, Ian Sanderson for the Liberal Democrats, and Ivana Bartoletti for the Labour Party.
Although LJF chairman Adrian Cohen urged a widening of the debate, it was clear from the beginning of the evening that anti-Semitism in politics – and its fallout – was at the forefront of everyone’s concerns. Scott – who now works for the Conservative mayoral candidate Zac Goldsmith – angrily brandished a series of anti-Semitic tweets that had been posted during his last General Election campaign. He spoke of having to attend a public meeting “with three plain-clothed police officers and two uniforms” and claimed some of the abuse directed at him had come from Labour political opponents.
He had received death threats and been called “a dirty Jew”, he said, and people had been warned not to vote for him in that guise. “Using anti-Semitic language is not acceptable,” he said, adding that long-time Labour MPs and supporters such as Louise Ellman or Lord Levy should resign from the party and sit as independents because of the ongoing problem with anti-Semitism in the Labour Party.
However, the meeting all but erupted when audience member Deborah Fink, well-known as a Jewish campaigner for Palestinian rights, repudiated the emphasis on anti-Semitism.
She said: “I object to these exaggerations of anti-Semitism – a lot of the so-called anti-Semitism towards Jews is because of their attitudes on Israel. And I have received many death threats – from other Jews.”
Asked what they would do to tackle anti- Semitic hate crime in London, all the candidates spoke about improving police numbers.
Bartoletti maintained that anyone in the Labour Party displaying anti-Semitic attitudes should be expelled immediately – adding, ruefully: “If we had won the election in May, we would have had a Jewish prime minister.” Labour was “home to many members of the Jewish community, and that’s how it should be,” she declared.
Perhaps the most remarkable response of the evening came in answer to a question about why Redbridge, once home to the biggest Jewish population in Europe, had declined so rapidly – thousands of younger Jews have left the area.
Asked what the panel would do to restore the Jewish community presence, Scott had a surprising solution. He revealed that he is going to France next month to meet people at Jewish community centres in Paris to try to encourage French Jews to move to Redbridge.
There were thousands of French Jews already in London, fleeing anti-Semitism in their country, he said, but many of them were relatively well-off and had settled in wealthy central London neighbourhoods.
He believed that there were numbers of less well-heeled French Jews whom he thought might enjoy settling in Redbridge.