A British rabbi has raised concerns about the growing solidarity between sections of the Jewish community and the far right while denouncing Islamophobia within the Conservative Party. Rabbi David Mason’s remarks echo warnings made by community leaders over the migration of far right politics to the shores of Britain. Critics point out that the right-wing has become emboldened in mainstream political parties across Europe and increased the likelihood of dog whistle racism and hate against Muslims.
Warning against the increasing “sympathy to the extreme right” among British Jews, Rabbi Mason, from Muswell Hill Synagogue, said that they need to be honest about the hate from the far right. “If we saw people arguing against Judaism in the way we see those on the right argue against Islam we would have a problem with it,” he told the Jewish Chronicle. “Wherever we see Islamophobia we need to stand up against it.”
Pointing out that he is equally concerned about anti-Semitism from the far left as he is with Islamophobia from the far right, he said that, “One thing I worry about – and I see a lot of it on social media – is too many Jewish people who are sympathetic to those on the more extreme right.”
Mason warned of “racism with a smile” while denouncing comments made by Boris Johnson, who is one of the bookies’ favourites to become the next Conservative Party leader, for likening burka-wearing Muslim women to “letterboxes” and “bank robbers”. While senior Conservatives, including Prime Minister Theresa May, called on Johnson to apologise for his remarks – which he has refused to do – the party is viewed widely as having failed miserably to address anti-Muslim bigotry and creating an environment where displaying open hostility and hatred towards Muslims is seen as a winning ticket for the keys of 10, Downing Street.
Several Jewish community leaders joined Rabbi Mason in condemning the former Foreign Secretary for his remarks. The Chairman of the Jewish Leadership Council, Jonathan Goldstein, took to Twitter to say: “Boris Johnson’s comments totally disgraceful. Extraordinary to think he was foreign secretary only a few weeks ago.”
According to the Executive Director of the Jewish Council for Racial Equality, Dr Edie Friedman, Johnson’s remarks were not about free speech but hate. She shared data in an article for Jewish News about the alarming rise of Islamophobia. “There is a danger that the apparent acceptability of hate speech will come to be seen as the ‘new normal’ – just part of everyday life.”
Echoing Rabbi Mason’s concerns, Friedman added, “This controversy has come at a time when political developments in the USA, the UK and mainland Europe have led to increasing popularity of the extreme right.” Elsewhere, she condemned “unequivocally” the former London Mayor’s “dog whistle racism.”
Other Jewish figures voicing their disapproval include Adrian Cohen, the chairman of the London Jewish Forum. Johnson’s remarks “should be of grave concern” to the Jewish community, he said. Cohen told the Jewish Chronicle, “The language Boris has chosen to use about Muslim women’s dress is not so much dog whistling against British Muslims as using a mega-phone, which will only embolden the far right and the bigots in our society and that is a threat both to Muslims (as the targeted victims) but also (albeit in a secondary manner) to all religious minorities and ultimately all of us invested in an enriched diverse society.” He concluded by pointing out that, “We all lose when irrational bigotry and fear are stimulated by those from the mainstream of British politics.”
Others highlighted the urgent need for all institutions, including political parties, to have clear and robust procedures in place to ensure that all communities have the confidence that racism, including anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, will be dealt with swiftly and transparently, wherever it appears. They warned that the failure to do so is very dangerous at this moment in time when the far right is again growing in strength.
Jewish community voices against Johnson’s remarks reflect comments made by Muslim groups over the mainstreaming of anti-Muslim bigotry. Muslim organisations called on the Tories to deal with what they say is “endemic” Islamophobia within their party ranks.