A Barnet councillor who opposed a local eruv claiming it would be “marketing the place as a Jewish area” has defended his suitability to organise the borough’s Holocaust Memorial Day ceremony.
David Longstaff was criticised by a fellow Conservative councillor and a Shoah memorial group this week after details emerged of his pivotal involvement in January’s HMD event in Hendon.
Critics claimed his seeming opposition to Orthodox Jews moving to Barnet should have made his HMD role untenable.
Councillor Longstaff admitted to a “poor choice of words” on the eruv issue but said he had put his “heart and soul” into organising the HMD commemoration. “Some of my oldest friends in Barnet are Jewish and half my colleagues in the party are Jewish. I would never offend them.”
In a blog published last Thursday, former Barnet mayor Brian Coleman said the councillor’s role in the ceremony was “a disgrace. It’s rather hypocritical when... he was saying he didn’t like eruvs.
“The man in charge of Holocaust commemoration in Barnet is worried about Jews moving into the area?”
Holocaust Memorial Day Trust chief executive Olivia Marks-Woldman said Cllr Longstaff’s remarks on the eruv had been “deplorable. The HMD event in Barnet was a tremendous success and involved many people from across the community. It’s very sad to hear these comments being reported from someone in this role in the community,” she said.
At a council meeting in November, Councillor Longstaff expressed concern at Barnet Synagogue rabbi Barry Lerer’s suggestion that an eruv would attract more Jews to the area. Quoting Dame Janet Suzman’s opposition to eruvim, he stated that “the idea of a constant daily reminder, bang outside my door, of religious practises which I find, if not anachronistic, then superstitious, is not a happy one”.
For the HMD event, the councillor had final approval on plans including budget, venue and speakers. He also gave the official welcome.
He claimed this week that his comments to the council meeting had been misunderstood. He had been trying to represent the views of residents who were unhappy with the eruv proposal.
“I really cannot believe things have got to this point. No one has written to me about my comments at the meeting. I live within an eruv anyway.”
Rabbi Lerer, “nice guy that he is”, had spoken of wanting to encourage Jews to move to the area.
“He was saying it would turn Barnet into an Orthodox Jewish area.”