Why the left seems to mind that I'm not a Jew

By Martin Bright, July 21, 2011

When I took the job as political editor of the JC in 2009, I wondered if it might be an issue that I was not a Jew. A reasonable concern, you might think, given the title of the publication.

I would not have been surprised if I had encountered a certain amount of suspicion. In the event, I was met with a mixture of curiosity and generosity. At my first meeting with the Board of Deputies I was asked who I considered my readership to be. I answered that I intended to report Westminster politics in much the same way as I had always done. At the same time, I would take guidance from my editor and my Jewish colleagues about areas of policy that particularly concerned or affected the community.

I have been working for the JC for nearly two years now and in that time no one within the Jewish community has ever questioned whether my ethnicity affected my ability to report the news.

Until this week that is, when it was suggested over dinner that my reporting of the controversy over the relationship between certain synagogues and the 'community organisers' London Citizens might have been better if I had been more involved in the community.

If there is one thing I have grown to understand in my time at the JC, it is the importance of a heated discussion over dinner and I remain grateful to my hosts for their hospitality. The food was excellent and the conversation at the impeccably liberal gathering was lively. I will breach no confidences by revealing we were in north London.

Common cause with extreme right Islamic politics

I have grown a thick skin about criticism of my journalism over the years. But I was genuinely shocked when someone suggested that that fact that I was not Jewish played a part in the way I reported the story and the tone I had taken. Shocked and upset.

As I see it, the facts of the case are clear. London Citizens has on its board of trustees a man called Junaid Ahmed, who in January 2009 expressed his support for the leaders of the terrorist organisation Hamas. Mr Ahmed represents East London Mosque and is also closely associated with Islamic Forum Europe, both of which have been linked to the sectarian politics of radical Islam.

It struck me that Jews who wished to get involved with London Citizens (in their undoubtedly worthy campaigns on low pay and asylum) should at least understand that these controversial connections existed and make their own decisions on that basis.

As I report this week, London Citizens has continued to back Junaid Ahmed and voted to retain him as a trustee at a board meeting at the end of June. The organisation's association with East London mosque is well-established. The institution is a founder member of London Citizens.

It is baffling to me that people who would consider themselves on the left of the Jewish community have chosen to make common cause with people on the extreme right of Islamic politics.

But it is not my non-Jewishness that makes me baffled. Even my fiercest critics can't believe DNA has a part to play in this.

Nor is it cultural. It is not because I do not send my children to a Jewish school or mark the high holy days.

It is baffling because the well-educated, enlightened Jews of north London should know better than anyone that it is unwise to forge alliances with authoritarian political movements.

What is all the more peculiar to me is that this criticism has come from the left.

I have never made any secret of my own party sympathies. I was the political editor of the New Statesman, a Labour-supporting magazine and before that I worked at the centre-left Observer and at the Guardian. I don't think journalists can ever be neutral but I hope I am fair to the Conservatives and to their Liberal Democrat allies in the Coalition.

At times, I know the stories I have covered in these pages have been uncomfortable for the government. In comment and analysis I have been critical of William Hague and Tory foreign policy. I have written about divisions within the Conservative Party over Israel and radical Islam. I was deeply critical of David Cameron's alliance with the far-right in Europe and the decision to invite Polish ultra-nationalist Michal Kaminski to Conservative Party conference. I have not always been positive about the government's approach to pushing new legislation on universal jurisdiction through parliament. I have, on occasion, exchanged sharp words with officers of Conservative Friends of Israel.

But not once has anyone on the right suggested that I don't 'get it' because I am not Jewish, or counselled me to tread more carefully with the sensitivities of more politically conservative members of the community.

It seems they realise, unlike my comrades on the left, that this is one hurdle I simply cannot be expected to jump.

Last updated: 11:25am, July 21 2011