Downturn ‘will fuel antisemitism’

British Jewish leaders are warning that the worsening economy could lead to a rise in antisemitism and increased support for the British National Party.

Henry Grunwald, president of the Board of Deputies and chairman of the Jewish Leadership Council, said this week: "We're already seeing and hearing things about who is responsible for the economic downturn and we know from history that when there are economic problems, there has always been an increase in antisemitism."

His fellow JLC executive member, Gerald Ronson, chairman of the Community Security Trust, added: "You shouldn't underestimate the problems we are going to face next year and the following year, given the state of the economy. I believe it will create some social unrest because of high unemployment and because the BNP wish to take advantage of that situation."

Having rallied Jewish organisations to join the campaign against the BNP in local elections this year, community leaders are now turning their attention to Europe.

"One of the issues the Jewish and other communities have to face next year is the European elections and a real chance the BNP will win a seat in the European Parliament," Mr Grunwald said. "We are already working to get the community mobilised."

He dismissed suggestion that the BNP no longer poses a threat to Jews. "It's sheer folly to imagine that, because for tactical reasons they seem to have their sights on others, they're not bothered about us," he said. Mr Ronson warned: "Jews [who] believe the BNP is not virulently antisemitic are burying their head in the sand."

It is five years since the formation of the JLC as a vehicle to promote greater collaboration among the major Jewish organisations. During that time it has acquired a full-time chief executive, expanded its lay membership from 16 to 25 and launched several initiatives, including the Israel 60 parade and rally in Trafalgar Square this summer and a commission on Jewish schools.

While critics still contend that it is unelected and unaccountable, Mr Grunwald said the carping comments "make me very cross".

Some members are elected heads of organisations and council members report back to their own boards, he pointed out. The JLC is not an organisation "plotting in secret", he added. "We have no power but we have influence. When issues come up which affect the whole community, the fact there is a group of people who show that they can and are willing to talk to each other, then only good can come out of it."

UJIA chair Mick Davis, also on the JLC executive, said the council has been "the organisation able to galvanise the community into actions when individual organisations haven't had the capacity". He also believed that the council had helped to improve Israel advocacy by encouraging greater co-ordination among the different organisations in the field. Two years ago the JLC initiated a review of the performance of the pro-Israel organisations after the experiences of the Second Lebanon War.

"We did that because we ourselves were unhappy with the way that whole issue had been handled, the impact we were having in terms of getting messages across, with the co-ordination within the community," he said. "Because we were unhappy, we did this exercise ourselves. We came up with a set of recommendations and identified how we should conduct ourselves going forward."

But when Israel is under attack in the media at times of crisis, Mr Davis said: "I can tell you now the community will never be satisfied with the response. It's impossible to satisfy them, you'll never get in front of the community. What we have to do is to make sure that we are reaching the right opinion-formers in this country and making sure that the right messages about Israel are getting to them, and I think the JLC has achieved that very satisfactorily."

    Last updated: 11:21am, November 13 2008