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The JC letters page, November 10

Wes Streeting MP, Russell Ballen, Betty Bloom, Brenda Jones, Esther Eljarrat Esebag, Rabbi Charles Wallach, David Ashton, Ron Shelley MBE, Rachel Montagu and Basil H Mann,  share their views with JC readers.

    (Getty)
    (Getty)

    Mending fences

    I write in reply to online and print coverage of two decisions I have taken in recent weeks, culminating in Marcus Dysch's comment piece 'Wes Streeting is taking a dangerous approach'.

    I make no apology for raising the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, nor for criticising Israeli, Egyptian and Palestinian leaders for their role in exacerbating the crisis. The people of Gaza do not have time to wait for a political resolution to the conflict, and so it is right that we look at what can be done to improve the scope and scale of humanitarian assistance to Gaza.

    My decision to attend the launch of Islamophobia Awareness Month has proven more controversial than when I attended the same event last year and has even attracted the ire of Conservative politicians with whom I have shared a platform at Mend events. Islamophobia, like antisemitism, is on the rise in my community and across the country and I welcome Islamophobia Awareness Month as an opportunity to tackle it.

    I am concerned by reports of deplorable statements made by people associated with MEND, particularly reported remarks about Jewish people, gay people and our Armed Forces and I took the opportunity to challenge MEND about whether the remarks are in line with their own stated aims and charter when I attended the event.  

    I know it is an increasing trend, particularly in the age of social media, to only engage with people with whom we agree, but as a Member of Parliament I do not believe I have that luxury. Whether tackling age-old prejudices like antisemitism or homophobia or tackling violent extremism, it is my belief that we will only win the argument if we're prepared to engage with it - which is why as President of National Union of Students I insisted on a high bar for our 'no platform' policy and debated on platforms and with organisations with a wide range of views that I found objectionable and even prejudiced. I remember being criticised for engaging with the Muslim Council of Britain when the Labour government refused. My approach to talking to people hasn't changed since and it isn't about to.

    I resent the suggestion that my decisions are the result of anything other than conviction. I particularly resent the implication that my statements on Gaza are incompatible with my role as Vice Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group Against Antisemitism.

    This clumsy comment is catnip for people in my own party who accuse me of using antisemitism to shut down legitimate criticism of the State of Israel.

    My approach, whether to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or to engaging with organisations with whom I disagree, remains consistent. I appreciate that not everyone will agree with my choices or statements, but if we don't have difficult conversations from a starting point of good faith then we can't have any dialogue at all, which is a barrier to progress. The JC should know better - I am not about to be pushed around by anyone.

    Wes Streeting MP

    Ilford North House of Commons, SW1A 0AA

    You reported that “Jeremy Corbyn’s attendance at an event organised by a group accused of having previously hosted “extremist Islamist speakers” has been condemned as “utterly unacceptable”. 

    Do you really think he is bothered, concerned or in the slightest bit interested? Have you not realised by now that, far from damaging him, these sorts of appearances and his comments made at them are actually applauded by his supporters? 
     
    While everyone appears to pay lip service to and condemns antisemitism, the reality is that not only is it allowed to grow and flourish in Corbyn’s Labour Party but it is actively promoted from the top down despite claims to the contrary. 
     
    It is no coincidence that since Corbyn became leader of the Labour Party reported incidents of antisemitism have dramatically increased.
     
    Russell Ballen, 
    Essex IG2
     

    Just in time

    Your article “I flew to France on his passport” ( Nov 3), reminds me of my own experience when I flew to Israel on an Emunah mission, some years ago. Always liking to be early, my husband dropped me off at Heathrow in very good time for my flight. I proceeded to passport-control and handed my passport to the person in charge, who looked at the photo, looked at me, and said: “it does not look like you”. I thought he was joking but I had picked up my husband’s passport that morning, instead of my own.
     
    I rushed to the exit and by luck I managed to get the last taxi waiting.  I told the driver that I would give him a good tip if he could take me back to Primrose Hill, to pick up my passport and return to Heathrow, in time for my flight.  
     
    To cut a long story short, even with a hold-up in St John’s Wood, we made it back in time for the flight, although I had to carry my suitcase on to the plane and had given the driver all my spending money for the trip.  When asked to give a farewell speech at the end of the mission, I started by saying: “a strange thing happened to me on the way to the airport”.  Since then, I have always double checked that I was carrying the correct passport.
     
    Betty Bloom, 
    London NW3

     

    Diversity counts

    Thank you Abi Symons for spotlighting the issue of all-male panels  — Fifteen is the magic number (but only if you’re a man) in her online article. Women in Property  has been leading the diversity challenge for 30 years, with a series of initiatives and through our collaboration with Property Week on the magazine’s Open Plan campaign for greater diversity in the industry.  
     
    You are absolutely right, Abi, Women in Property would have been delighted to help in the sourcing of a representative panel.
     
    We are regularly asked if WiP members would like to participate in panel debates. In fact, we accept only if there is something approaching gender balance and, although seemingly challenging for some organisations, we urge Black, Asian and Ethnic Minority representation, too.
     
    Conference organisers are missing out on a range of views if they go to the “usual suspects” for their speakers, as well as giving the impression that there are no senior women in our industry. 
     
    Over the years, we have encouraged business to think outside the (male dominated) box.  So, when a senior (male) individual has to decline a speaker opportunity, rather than unconscious bias taking its course and the invitation being passed to another male colleague, don’t forget the equally talented women in the organisation.  There is a message here for women, too: be visible, put yourself forward, why shouldn’t it be you?
     
    Brenda Jones, 
    National Chairman, Association of Women in Property

     

    Unconvinced

    As Ms Rabasso Newman rightly points out, (“We guarded the Catalonian ballot box with applause”, Nov 3), we Catalans indeed share many similar values with the Jewish people. And, as with the old saying “two Jews, three opinions”, the same applies in Catalonia. 
     
    Reading Ms Rabasso Newman’s account, I suspect that she has fallen prey to the heavily orchestrated strategy devised by the deposed Catalan government. Their carefully-planned road-map to independence involved creating a grassroots movement, easily accessible via social media and ready to be mobilised at the click of a button. This is how the anti-Spanish sentiment (dare I call it propaganda) was spread, along with the (now-proven) lies that Catalonia would be a prosperous nation recognised internationally and allowed to remain in the EU. Nothing could be further from the truth. 
     
    Since the declaration of independence, 2,000 companies have redomiciled elsewhere in Spain, tourism is declining and unemployment has increased in Catalonia, bucking the trend in the rest of Spain. Social unrest is increasing and feelings have never been this heightened. 
     
    It is fair to say that the Spanish Government’s handling of this situation is not beyond reproach. However, Spain is a democracy with a modern, written constitution adopted by a popular and free vote by the overwhelming population of the country, including Catalonia. As with any member of the European Union, our human rights are very well protected and it is truly absurd to suggest that Catalans today suffer “repression” or that their “representatives are being persecuted for their ideals”. Those politicians who have been imprisoned are behind bars for blatantly disregarding the law. Of course, this only increases an image of victimisation.
     
    Given you published this article in the periodical of the Anglo-Jewish community, perhaps my fellow JC readers will be interested to learn of two pertinent facts that the writer did not care to mention. Firstly, a key player in the pro-independence movement, the CUP party, is a pro-BDS, openly anti-Israel radical-left party whose mantra is “disobedience and insubordination”. In their own words, “the worse off we are, the stronger the pro-independence feeling grows”. If their aim was to create a deeply divided Catalonia, they have certainly succeeded. Secondly, the FCJE (Federation of Jewish Communities in Spain) have publicly stated their support for Spanish unity. 
     
    These are two facts that the JC ought to have brought to the attention of its readers. It is a shame that both views on this very divisive topic have not been reported in your paper.
     
    Esther Eljarrat Esebag
    London NW7
     

    Apartheid fighters

     
    I read with interest Moira Schneider’s review of the film An Act of Defiance, the opener to the Jewish Film Festival. The film covers the role of those who fought apartheid, not least that of many Jews. Indeed, I knew, met and even worked with a number myself.
     
    As important as it is to acknowledge the role of Jewry in the struggle, it is also important to be accurate.
     
    I have already contacted those involved in running the Film Festival. One figure referred to was not Jewish: Bram Fischer was of Afrikaner background, with his forebears prominently involved in the Boer War.
     
    Indeed, in some ways his opposition to apartheid was even more remarkable as he was one of a relatively small group of Afrikaners who “broke rank”. I should know: some, like Rev Beyers Naude and Prof. Albert Geyser were my teachers at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg.
     
    Rabbi Charles Wallach, 
    Hove, Sussex
     

    Lenin’s roots

     
    Victor Sebestyen suggests that Lenin was unaware of any Jewish ancestry ( November 3).  This unlikely view needs evaluation alongside analysis of his family background by other historians, especially Yohanan Petrovsky-Shtern, Christopher Read and Robert Service. “Lenin’s non-Russian ethnic antecedents — Mongol, Jewish, Swedish and German — may partly explain his often expressed contempt for Russia and the Russians” (Orlando Figes).
     
    Anti-Bolshevik propaganda invented false biographies of Lenin just as their successors made Jews of Stalin (mistranslating Dzugashvili) and Khrushchev (supposedly “Solomon Perlmutter”). The truth about grandfather Blank, however, was published in Moscow over 25 years ago.
     
    For good or ill, many Jews were drawn to international communism in the last century, but antisemites then and now have misinterpreted this development solely as a Jewish-directed “racial” conspiracy— with horrific consequences.  
     
    David Ashton
    Sheringham, Norfolk

     

    Ajex parade

    The 83rd Ajex Annual Ceremony and Parade will be held on Sunday November 19 at Horse Guards Parade Ground and at the Cenotaph, fall-in 1.30 pm.
     
    This year, wreaths will be laid in honour of Jewish servicemen who were killed in action in the Battle of Passchendaele (July 1917), the Liberation of Jerusalem (December 1917), Battle of El Alamein (October 1942) and the Dieppe Raid (August 1942).
     
    Ajex would like to invite descendants of those killed in action and those who survived and all Jewish servicemen and women to participate. Please contact me via email: rshelley@sshllp or telephone Ajex office on 020 8202 2323.
     
    Ron Shelley MBE
    Vice-President
    AJEX Parade Commander

    Mr E Montague

    Your correspondent Tony Adler (October 27) is mistaken about the name of the Secretary of State for India in 1917: he was Edwin (not Ewen) Montagu. Edwin’s biographer Naomi B Levene described the Balfour Declaration’s idea of a Jewish homeland in Palestine as “probably the only issue upon which Montagu and the Jewish leadership of his day ever agreed… and it is interesting that it was the Jewish Zionist minority whose views prevailed”.
     
    These included Edwin’s first cousin Herbert Samuel who, although no longer in the Cabinet in 1917, had in 1914, raised the question of a Jewish state with Prime Minister Herbert Asquith and Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey, and, in 1915, produced a pro-Zionist memorandum The Future of Palestine. 
     
    According to my grandfather Ewen Montagu (Edwin’s nephew), Edwin’s views on Zionism represented his belief that Jews were co-religionists but not co-nationals but also, from his role as its Secretary of State, the views of India on a Jewish state in Palestine. 
     
    Rachel Montagu, 
    London NW2

     

    Balfour House

    Congratulations on the excellent Balfour Declaration supplement.
     
    I was educated at Whittingehame College a Jewish boarding school in Brighton, founded by Jacob Halevy,  a great Zionist and was named Whittingehame, being the country home of the Earl of Balfour.
     
    The school was divided into three Houses: Weitzman, Herzl  and Balfour 
     
    Basil H Mann, 
    Isleworth, Middlesex
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