Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis this week heaped further pressure on JNF UK by saying its chairman Samuel Hayek is “entirely wrong” to suggest the future of British Jewry is under threat as a result of Muslim immigration.
In a significant intervention, Rabbi Mirvis told Jewish News he believes Jews in the UK “are blessed to live in an overwhelmingly welcoming nation as one of the most vibrant, confident and contented Jewish communities in the world”.
And, pointedly, he also praised the support of the Muslim community, alongside that of “countless non-Jewish partners” in the fight against the “scourge of antisemitism” which he said sadly “continues to be an appalling blight upon British society”.
The Chief Rabbi – one of JNF UK’s honorary patrons alongside other senior political figures including former Labour prime ministers Sir Tony Blair and Gordon Brown – is the most high-profile figure yet to condemn comments made by Hayek in an interview with Jewish News last month.
Asked to clarify a claim that “Jews have no future in England”, which the charity chief made to the Jerusalem Post, Hayek sparked widespread anger when he said that as a result of Muslim immigration “maybe in 10 years, maybe less” Jews would no longer be able to live in the UK.
Responding to Hayek’s remarks, the Chief Rabbi told Jewish News: “It is entirely wrong to suggest the future of the British Jewish community is in question as a result of demographic change in this country.
“There is no doubt that the scourge of antisemitism continues to be an appalling blight upon British society, but recent years have demonstrated that the Jewish community can rely on the support of countless non-Jewish partners in tackling anti-Jewish hatred, including from within the Muslim community.”
He added: “It is possible to be realistic about the challenges of contemporary antisemitism in the UK while also believing that we are blessed to live in an overwhelmingly welcoming nation, as one of the most vibrant, confident and contented Jewish communities in the world.”
Rabbi Mirvis’s intervention came after more than 46 elected Board of Deputies representatives signed a letter demanding that trustees of the Jewish National Fund UK charity back calls for chairman Samuel Hayek to resign over his ‘Islamophobic’ comments.
The open letter – signed by deputies and those with under-35 observer status on the Board from across the Jewish religious spectrum, including three United Synagogue representatives – calls for the 11 trustees to take “decisive active” over the JNF UK chair’s inflammatory comments.
It states: “Samuel Hayek must resign, and his Islamophobic comments must be condemned explicitly by you as his fellow trustees.
“Until such a time that this happens, we will advise our synagogues and organisations to withdraw cooperation with JNF UK and the programmes it funds and supports. We will also advise members of our synagogues to ensure their children do not take part in programmes run or funded by JNF UK.”
The letter, sent to JNF UK trustees on Tuesday, states: “It is chilling that Hayek echoes Great Replacement Theory – an ideology used historically against Jewish communities – that ‘the white Christian majority is shrinking… to a degree where there is a point it cannot protect itself anymore’.”
The letter, signed by Masorti, Reform Judaism, Liberal Judaism and Habonim Dror, UJS and Yachad representatives, adds: “These bigoted remarks have no place in our community. If we have come to expect zero-tolerance of antisemitism, we must show zero- tolerance of racism and Islamophobia.”
JNF UK’s trustees include Gary Mond, an honorary officer at the Board, who chairs the communities and education division.
The signatories of the letter to the trustees say they fear Gary Mond’s failure to condemn Hayek’s comments will “cause irrevocable damage to Jewish-Muslim relations and be disreputable to the Board of Deputies itself”.
A motion tabled in advance of the Board of Deputies plenary this month, backed by 46 deputies, calls on it to remove JNF UK as a member while Hayek continues to remain chair.
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