Row over Yasmin Alibhai-Brown synagogue invite

Centre of row: Yasmin Alibhai-Brown

Centre of row: Yasmin Alibhai-Brown

A leading Reform synagogue has been attacked by the Zionist Federation for hosting one of Britain’s most outspoken critics of Israel.

Columnist and author Yasmin Alibhai-Brown appeared at North Western Reform Synagogue (Alyth Gardens), in north west London, on Wednesday.

At the event, jointly hosted by the Jewish Council for Racial Equality (JCore), Ms Alibhai-Brown spoke about her life in Britain after leaving her native Uganda.

The one-woman show is described as “the impassioned and poignant story of how Shakespeare and the theatre” changed her life.

It will be repeated at a theatre in Kilburn under the auspices of the One to One Children’s Fund, which supports social and educational programmes for youngsters, and of which Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks is a patron, at the end of the month.

Ms Alibhai-Brown is a regular critic of Israel, comparing the country to apartheid South Africa and linking Israeli army actions to those of Nazi Germany.

ZF co-vice chairman Jonathan Hoffman said: “Yasmin Alibhai-Brown has a history of derogatory comments.

“It is about as appropriate for a Jewish anti-racism organisation and a synagogue to host her as it would have been for Help the Aged to host Harold Shipman to give a lecture on staying healthy in old age.”

Alyth member Denis Vandervelde said he found the invitation “stomach-turning”.

“I am quite happy if my synagogue decides to invite a rational Muslim or Palestinian to debate with an Israeli representing mainstream political thought in that country, or with a British Zionist.

“I have recommended an excellent Muslim speaker to them without getting an answer. I see no merit at all in inviting a hater of Israel.”

But Alyth’s Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner defended the shul’s decision to welcome Ms Alibhai-Brown.

She said: “We are very strong supporters of JCore. They suggested Yasmin and we agreed. We support a multitude of views; we do not stifle them.

“If people had been concerned about the content of her show it would not have happened. She would be a controversial guest if the discussion was about Israel. I hear people’s concerns but we are not closing down dialogue.”

She said the shul had not directly received any complaints from members or other organisations.

Dr Edie Friedman, JCore executive director, said: “Yasmin has been a long-standing member of our black, Asian and Jewish forum. This is the second time she has presented this for us and raised money for our refugee projects.

“I hope her story resonated with people in our community. Alyth has always supported our work and we have had a very positive working relationship over many years.

“JCore is concerned with tackling racism within the UK and building a cohesive, multi-racial society. Issues in the Middle East, Kashmir, Iraq and other international issues do impact on us — it’s inevitable there will be clashes of opinion.”

    Last updated: 3:51pm, November 19 2009