Opinion: You're kidding no-one, Mr Griffin
Prominent community figures assess the fallout from the BNP leader’s bid for respectability on BBC Question Time last week
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Nick Griffin during his controversial Question Time debut
Anglo-Jewry should form alliances with other ethnic minorities targeted by the racist BNP, but the community is generally well-armed to deal with any rise in its status or membership.
These are the views of a number of communal leaders asked two specific questions by the JC in the wake of last week’s appearance on the BBC’s Question Time by the far-right party’s chairman Nick Griffin.
● How damaging to the Jewish community do you think the BNP’s appearance on Question Time was?
● What do you think the Jewish community should do now to ready itself for the anticipated rise in support for the BNP?
● Veteran anti-fascist combatant Gerry Gable, who founded Searchlight magazine, felt the BNP’s appearance had no effect on the community. But, he said: “It’s clearly woken up many people who may have been persuaded that they have reformed themselves into something else other than Jew-baiters and Nazis.
“The Board of Deputies and the CST have been increasingly well-prepared to deal with these problems. At the last two elections, there has been a dedicated person in place to organise and brief the community, and work with the ‘Hope Not Hate’ campaign.”
● Leading lawyer Anthony Julius agreed that “the Jewish community has already taken many steps needed to deal with any increase in BNP support”, but Lord Janner, chairman of the Holocaust Educational Trust, believed the appearance had given the BNP “status” that could be harmful to the community.
“Our community should increase its support to all our organisations which battle against racism in general and antisemitism in particular,” he said.
● Dr Edie Friedman, director of the Jewish Council for Racial Equality, described Nick Griffin’s declared support during the programme for Israel’s action in Gaza as “a sinister attempt to demonstrate both his pro-Jewish and anti-Muslim credentials”. She added: “The Jewish community must work closely with a range of faith-based and communal organisations in exposing the BNP for their divisive, destructive and discriminatory policies.”
● Rabbi Barry Marcus, minister of the Central Synagogue in central London, said it would be a mistake for the community to over-react. “We know what to do; we’ve been doing it for years,” he added.
● Businessman and Conservative Party treasurer Howard Leigh, a member of the Jewish Leadership Council, said that while he could not discern any specific damage to the community, “we have to ensure that every Jewish person goes out to vote for his or her political preference to dilute their impact”.
● Professor Colin Shindler of London University’s School of African and Oriental Studies predicted that the BNP, as an elected party, would take part in more television programmes. He felt that the community “should ally itself with other ethnic minorities including rational Muslim leaders like Ed Husain. The Israel-Palestine conflict will always produce sharply divergent views between Muslims and Jews. However, the common enemy for those who oppose both antisemitism and Islamophobia is the BNP.”
● Former Nightingale chair Ros Preston observed that “any publicity for a far right/fascist body must be a potential danger to the community, in the light of our past history”. She believed that the community “should be ready to support publicly the major political parties and individuals who are prepared to tackle the BNP head-on, by exposing its true agenda which of course includes anti-Jewish propaganda, but not by painting ourselves as the only target”.
● Board of Deputies’ president Vivian Wineman said the appearance on Question Time had “highlighted, both for the community and beyond, the very real and present danger of the BNP.
“The Jewish community must not be complacent. We need to redouble our efforts to work with others to counter this threat, working in co-operation with other faith groups, trade unions, political allies to promote a zero tolerance of racism and bigotry, from wherever it comes,” he added.
● Conservative Friends of Israel director Stuart Polak believed that the programme exposed Nick Griffin’s shortcomings and “that perhaps this has been a wake-up call for the major parties. But I don’t believe there will be a rise in its membership out of this programme.”
● Community Security Trust director of communications Mark Gardner said: “No other community has shown such commitment over decades of fighting the fascists. It is now time for other communities and parties to match our efforts. The CST has worked tirelessly against the BNP for many years and briefed politicians from each of the parties during the recent conference season. “It is most likely that the BNP will grow stronger after its appearance — and we and our communal partners will intensify our efforts accordingly.”