Board presidential hopefuls respond to claims of Islamisation of UK politics

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Board presidential hopefuls respond to claims of Islamisation of UK politics

Four Board presidential candidates take part in hustings at JFS school ahead of May 12 vote

Lee Harpin is the Jewish News's political editor

Board of Deputies hustings at JFC
Board of Deputies hustings at JFC

Michael Wegier, Board chief exec, introduces hustings at JFS
The four Board of Deputies presidential candidates have displayed differing approaches to answering potentially problematic questions at a hustings ahead of Sunday’s election.

At a well-attended event at JFS school on Wednesday evening, hosted expertly by former British Ambassador to Israel Matthew Gould, one question involved claims of an “Islamicisation of British politics”.

The presidential hopefuls were also quizzed on whether they would agree the BBC is “systematically biased.”It was Edgware Synagogue deputy Keith Myers who stood up, revealing he wished to ask the four candidates on behalf of a member of the congregation, what they would do to address what he described as “the Islamicisation of British politics”.

Michael Ziff, who hails from the city of Leeds, referenced the concern over the conduct of a newly elected Green Party city councillor who had claimed victory in last week’s local election was for “the people of Gaza.”

Ziff said: “We, as the Jewish community in Leeds, are clearly worried about the way forward.” But he rebuffed the allegation made in the question, adding:”“I don’t think we have yet achieved that status, I don’t think we are there yet.”

Dr Sheila Gewolb  was direct in her response referencing the “frightening” campaign group The Muslim Vote, which submitted a series of demands to the Labour Party.

Gewolb added: “We stood up to Jeremy Corbyn, and Keir Starmer took over, but these people haven’t gone away. They are all out there.

“Many of them had gone to the Green Party, which needed to be challenged over how it was recruiting candidates, she argued. “We need to… discuss the process by which these people stand as candidates. We need to stamp on it because, like everything else, if we are not on top of it, it’s only going to get worse.”

Michael Weiger, Board chief exec, introduces hustings at JFS

Speaking next, Phil Rosenberg said he would “gently push back against” the term Islamicisation.“I do think we have to stand up to Islamist extremism,” he said.

“And when there are incidents that tend in that direction, there are worries about the Green Party particularly, we do have to stand up with clarity.

“There are many moderate Muslims in this country who are our friends – probably the majority – and we need to work with them to marginalise these Islamist extremists.”

Also calling for a more moderate tone to the same debate was Amanda Bowman who said the term Islamicisation was “not necessarily one I would be comfortable with.”

She added:” I would like to think that it is not the general view of most of us” but admitted  she found some of the campaign objectives of The Muslim Vote group “very troubling”.

In a further question, it was suggested to the four challengers that antisemitism was spread mostly through the media, and that the BBC were repeating what Hamas “tells them to say.”

Asked by host Gould for the response to claims of anti-Israel bias at the BBC, Bowman said:”I think the content of the BBC is highly problematic in terms of its reporting of Israel right now.”

But she added:”But that’s because I’m looking for it quite frankly.” 

Bowman noted Muslim friends were having “the same conversations.”

Rosenberg said he felt the BBC was “institutionally biased” although it is a massive organisation and “does a lot of good things …a lot that comes out of the BBC is really very good.”

But he added:”I think whenever it comes to issues around Israel we see far too often, not always, instances of clear, clear bias. ”

He called for the Board to conduct a “proper review” of bias at the BBC.

Gewolb said:”All I know is that I grit my teeth every time I turn on the BBC News at 10. I am horrified by what I see. It may be different to people from other communities. All I care about are Jewish people in this country and what they’re seeing.”

She said:”I believe there are people there with their own agendas, we need to challenge these people.”

Ziff said:”Reporting on Israel has for years been biased … this war has upscaled that considerably.”

He said he would set up a media response crisis team to look into “where those areas of bias exist” and then asked for meetings, before mounting attacks on people in an attempt to resolve issues.

Ziff said he wished to bring a “collaborative, cohesive presidency to the table.”Around 300 deputies will vote to choose the new Board president, and vice-presidents on Sunday.

Around 300 deputies vote for the successor to Marie van der Zyl on Sunday.


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