Acting as cover for extremism is the real problem

By Martin Bright, January 5, 2012

As news stories go, it's about as straightforward as they come. A group of community activists keen to recruit in the Jewish community turns out to have a trustee who has made a public statement celebrating antisemitic terrorists who murder Jews. What's more, one of the founder institutions of the organisations is a mosque which regularly hosts antisemitic hate preachers from the Middle East and South Asia.

And yet, for exposing the links between London Citizens, the "community organisers" best known for their campaign on the living wage, and the Islamic extreme right, the Jewish Chronicle is accused of carrying out a "Jihad against the Jews". The title of a hastily arranged meeting at this year's Limmud would have been deeply offensive if it hadn't been so infantile.

I realise that my description of Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg as a "useful idiot" in these pages has caused anger and upset among his congregation at New North London synagogue and his supporters in the wider community. My words were carefully chosen and I stand by them. The Rabbi himself defends his decision to share a platform with Mohammed Abdul Bari of East London Mosque at the end of a London Citizens parade last month. This is a mosque which recently advertised a discussion with Sheihk Saad al-Beraik, a Saudi cleric who has called for the enslavement of Jewish women by the Palestinians.

He also told the Jewish Chronicle last week that he has not challenged London Citizens about its deputy chair of trustees, Junaid Ahmed, who spoke during Operation Cast Lead in praise of Hamas leaders.

This seems like a strange abdication of responsibility. Rabbi Wittenberg would surely never take the same approach with a senior member of the British National Party. Apparently he doesn't "seek to confront people with a record of difficult views", but would confront abhorrent views if he encountered them directly.

Engagement for the sake of engagement is pointless and intellectually lazy

The message to those who want Rabbi Wittenberg to act as cover for extremism is simply not to tell him to his face that they hate Jews.

I do not accept Keith Kahn-Harris's false dichotomy between the "politics of engagement" and the "politics of exclusion". Engagement for the sake of engagement is pointless and intellectually lazy. In order to engage, it is essential to know with whom you are engaging. Rabbi Wittenberg and those within the Jewish community who feel it is a good idea to make common cause with London Citizens and East London Mosque have stubbornly refused to do the most basic due diligence. The mosque has always been heavily influenced by the Jamaat-i-Islami, the South Asian offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood. In the "politics of exclusion" this party has few rivals, promoting hatred against Hindus, women and other Muslims who do not follow its austere vision of Islam. At present, several prominent members of the party face trial for war crimes associated with the Bangladeshi war of independence in 1971 (Jamaat backed Pakistan in the struggle). One of these men, Delwar Hossein Sayeedi, found himself at the centre of a storm in 2006 when he was invited to speak at East London Mosque. When members of the Bangladeshi community argued that Sayeedi should never have been issued with a visa, Mohammed Adul Bari leapt to his defence.

Have Rabbi Wittenberg and his supporters ever raised concerns about war crimes in Bangladesh or East London Mosque's relationship with Jamaat-i-Islami's politics of hate? I somehow doubt it.

I am told I would take a different approach if I had better contacts within New North London Synagogue. Mr Kahn-Harris might want to ask himself who it was that raised questions about London Citizens if not concerned members of that congregation.

I would be happy to develop the relationship further, but have not been invited by anyone within the Masorti movement to share the intelligence I and others have about their unsavoury partners.

To those who argue that engagement with the Islamic extreme right helps bridge divisions between our communities, I ask the following question: where is the evidence that Rabbi Wittenberg's involvement with London Citizens has stopped a single antisemitic hate preacher coming to East London Mosque?

Last updated: 3:08pm, January 5 2012