Fighting for Yemeni Jews

By Diane Abbott
April 19, 2010

Elections are always frantic and this one is no exception. Even though it is my sixth election campaign I never believe that I am going to win until I see the ballot papers piling up on election night!

Hackney is one of the classic areas of Jewish settlement. We have the oldest synagogue in the country at Brenthouse Road and in Stoke Newington there seems to be a synagogue around every corner.

And there are many illustrious members of the Jewish community who were born and brought up in Hackney. They range from the late Jack Cohen of Tesco fame to playwright Harold Pinter.

Another Hackney boy who has not forgotten his roots is music mogul (and best-friend of Tony Blair) Michael Levy. He likes to reminisce about the Hackney he grew up in where Jewish and Jamaican families lived happily up side by side.

He still pops up at events in Hackney, particularly in relation to his work with Jewish Care. He was always a little more enthusiastic about Tony Blair than I was. But Michael's charm and energy is hard to resist. And, when we meet, I tactfully refrain from pointing out how close he came to being the "fall-guy" for the cash for honours scandal.

Sadly many of the synagogues in the constituency are no longer used or have been redeveloped. Because the non-orthodox Jewish community has gradually moved out to suburbia. But my orthodox community has remained stable and is expanding.

My Orthodox community generally votes Tory, but I deal with their problems and take up their issues regardless.

I get a steady stream of immigration casework from them and under a Labour government they were able to get a long-desired Orthodox Jewish girls school Yesodei Hatorah built and supported by the state.

I have also campaigned about the plight of the Jews in the Yemen. They are one of the oldest Jewish communities in the world but are desperate to flee Yemen. They are in fear of their lives there because of insurgent Islamicism.

I have argued with ministers for over a year on this issue. So I was very pleased to read the following piece in The Independent.

It seems that my government may finally be willing to offer sanctuary to persecuted Yemeni Jews with links to the UK. It goes without saying that if I am fortunate enough to be re-elected; I will continue to push this issue.

Although the non-orthodox Jewish community in Hackney is not as large as it once was, Hackney still boasts some nationally important Jewish cultural and social institutions.

Tomorrow I am fulfilling a long-standing engagement at the wonderful Jewish primary school Simon Marks. Also in attendance will be the Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks.

And later in the campaign I will be attending an election hustings at a Jewish Care community centre Brenner Centre at Raine House. I am sure it will be a lively event.

Anyway, enough of the blogging, I need to get back on the campaign trail. An American politician once said "all politics is retail". And it is the retail end of politics- meeting and listening to real people, away from the Westminster hothouse, that I enjoy the most.

Diane Abbott is the Labour MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington. She is campaigning for re-election.

This blog is part of the's On The Campaign Trail blog for the Election 2010 where candidates in key Jewish areas have been invited to blog. Read more on our Election 2010 page



Mon, 04/19/2010 - 19:19

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Hey Diane, very interesting post... I used to attend a synogogue in Hackney that unfortunately has sinced closed down, a real shame as it was a lovely community.

Good luck in the election Diane, it's a shame Labour look like they will be taking a beating, but hopefully you will pull through, it's always seemed you were one of the good ones to me.

Say hi to Portillo for me too. Also, remember, you don't have to let him always cosy up to you like that... Although it is sweet the way his arm drifts around you sometimes.

Jessica Mills

Wed, 04/21/2010 - 14:19

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This was such a good read, thank Diane.


Sun, 04/25/2010 - 23:31

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Yes Ms Abbott, I well remember your sticking the boot into Israel when it was facing thousands of missiles raining down on its northern communities. Now you need some Jewish votes. What chutzpah!

I suppose you would never consider it natural for the Yemeni Jews to move to the Jewish homeland?

Jonathan Hoffman

Mon, 04/26/2010 - 00:00

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Hi Diane

Great about the Yemenite Jews. Guess that has something to do with the Satmars in your constituency. How odd that you don't mention the many that Israel has taken - but I guess there are no votes in that for you:

You've also been not exactly a "friend" of Israel, right?

Look at this speech you made, Diane. You questioned that Israel fought a war of self defence in Gaza; you said "they are deliberately targetting UN installations" which was nonsense; you said white phosphorus is "banned" - more nonsense; you accused Israel of committing "war crimes" - more mendacity.

And how come you signed EDM502 -- against changes to the Universal Jurisdiction loophole which is used to arrest visiting Israelis?

You think that you can get Jewish votes by mentioning disused synagogues, Jack Cohen and Harold Pinter, and dropping Lord Levy's name into the conversation.

Hopefully your Jewish constituents will not be shy to disabuse you of that misapprehension.


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