Westminster is a very diverse community. Is it not divisive to concentrate on the interests of one group?
Westminster is indeed a very diverse part of London and contains many communities. The vast majority of my correspondence with constituents has been, as one would rightly expect, in English but I feel it is important to try to reach out to people within each of the different communities in Westminster by whatever means is most appropriate.
For communities with large groups of older or newly arrived members who may struggle with English as a second language I have found it useful to occasionally make contact in a different language and have therefore sent out material in Bengali, Arabic and Albanian.
I do not believe occasionally communicating with a community in a different language is divisive in any way – it simply recognises the diversity of our community. English is a unifying force among our different communities and it is the main way I communicate with constituents across each, only occasionally supplementing this central form of communication with targeted mailings to communities in different languages.
What have you done to reassure the Jewish voters of North Westminster that you also represents their interests?
In my thirteen years as the parliamentary representative for Regent’s Park and Kensington North I have championed the concerns and interests of Jewish voters just as I have any other group of voters.
I have attended events at Synagogues across the constituency (and outside if attended by my constituents), have met regularly with local Rabbi’s, have made representations to the police and other bodies about the rise of anti-Semitic abuse and have visited Jewish schools in the area such as Abercorn School.
I have also striven to ensure that young people in my constituency learn about the Holocaust by sponsoring school visits to Auschwitz-Berkenau (see http://bit.ly/a1OSF4 ) and promoting Holocaust Remembrance Day each year by signing a Book of Commitment in the House of Commons to honour those who perished (see http://bit.ly/bdGgFE ). I am a Guardian of Yad Vashem UK.
Have you sent out similar material targeting the Jewish community or other ethnic/religious groups in the constituency?
Given that Jewish voters in Regent’s Park and Kensington North do not, by and large, struggle with the language barriers that affect other communities such as the Arabic, Bangladeshi, Kosovo, Ethiopian, and other communities I have never been pressed by Jewish constituents to communicate with the Jewish community in a targeted way and have instead dealt with Jewish constituents on a one-to-one basis and through meetings with community groups, rabbi’s and other organisations representative of the Jewish community.
In the material we have seen, there is strong language about the “collective punishment of a million people in Gaza” and yet you make no mention of her position towards Hamas. You visited Sderot, so what is your view of Hamas rockets targeting civilians and does you regard it as a terrorist organisation?
The Arabic-language mailing I sent to members of the Arabic-speaking community in Westminster did contain strong language about the situation in Gaza and indeed the wider Israeli-Palestinian dispute. The reference you cite was from a question I asked the Prime Minister (Hansard, 6th January, PMQs, Column 165 see http://bit.ly/53wWQP) on 6th January in the House of Commons.
In this question I put forth a balanced position in which I condemned war crimes on both sides during Operation Cast Lead but also raised concerns with the Israeli blockade of the Gaza strip.
Having recently returned from visit to the Gaza strip on a four day fact-finding mission with the Britain-Palestine All-Party Parliamentary Group I have seen first-hand the effects of the on-going Israeli blockade and do regard it as a form of collective punishment against the civilian population of the territory.
Of course Israeli citizens also suffered prior to and during the Israeli incursion but not quite to the same extent.
In the limited time available in a question to the Prime Minister or a brief mailing to the Arabic community I did not outline my position towards Hamas but I can state categorically that I have constituently and unequivocally condemned the use of rockets against civilians in any form – the affect of which I have seen first hand during my visits to Sderot and which I conveyed to constituents in writing and person many times including in my Annual Report which went out across the constituency.
I do regard Hamas as a terrorist organisation but I believe there are moderate elements within the organisation and that refusing to engage with these elements is likely to be counter-productive.
You say you voted against the Iraq War. In fact, as your website makes clear, you voted for Division 117, the Kilfoyle amendment challenging the moral case for war. You absented herself from the main vote, Division 118.
It is a fact that I voted against the Government on the Iraq War when I voted in division 117 on the 18th March 2003 – a division on the Kilfoyle amendment which stated that this House “believes that the case for war against Iraq has not yet been established, especially given the absence of specific United Nations authorisation” and is widely recognised as the crucial vote which could have prevented the country going to war.
This is why in my Arabic language mailing to constituents I stated that I voted against the decision to go to war in Iraq. I felt at the time (and still do) that the war was an incorrect judgement call. The reason I felt it necessary to raise this issue after seven years is because my opponent has been stating on her twitter account that some constituents were angry that I had failed to oppose the war.
I believe this to be a total distortion of the facts as I clearly voted against the Government on at least two occasions over Iraq including the Kilfoyle amendment.
This is why, and I would be surprised if the Jewish Chronicle takes a different line on this, every major media outlet in the country – and abroad – included me at the time and after in their list of so-called ‘rebel’ Labour Members of Parliament over the Iraq decision (see for example http://bit.ly/9wShQw).