Barnet mayor attacked over 'Religious Lives Matter' slogan

Brian Gordon used the phrase in a letter calling on the government to urgently re-open places of worship


The controversial incoming mayor of Barnet, Brian Gordon, has been accused of "tone-deaf rhetoric" after he declared that  “Religious Lives Matter” in a letter calling on the government to re-open places of worship.

Mr Gordon argues in his open letter that “faith needs are being pushed to the bottom of the agenda” as Britain emerges from pandemic.

His declaration “Religious Lives Matter” appeaed to be a play on Black Lives Matter, the American anti-racism movement and the rallying cry of protests around the world following the killing of a black man, George Floyd, by a Minneapolis policeman.  

Mr Gordon’s appropriation of the slogan has been criticised on social media and by organisations within the Jewish community.

Nahamu, an organisation that seeks to “oppose religious extremism within the Jewish community”, said: “By choosing the slogan ‘Religious Lives Matter’, Brian Gordon clearly intends to reference ‘Black Lives Matter’.

"However, it is deeply inappropriate to present temporary restrictions on access to communal places of worship during the Covid-19 crisis as equivalent to concerns relating to deaths resulting from illegal and discriminatory conduct by police officers.”

“At best,” Nahamu said, “it gives the impression that these matters are trivial and insignificant, and that it is clever or funny to use the language of the Black Lives Matter campaign to be appropriated for his own narrow interests.”

Nahamu continued: “He has a long history of conduct of this nature. It is deeply disappointing for him to invoke this kind of tone-deaf rhetoric at a time of enormous sensitivity. It also evidences the councillor's inability to act in a manner that one might fairly expect of a civic leader.”

Mr Gordon, who is also an executive member of the strictly Orthodox Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations, was expected to take office in May - although this has since been postponed.  

In the letter, which was published on online Jewish forum Everywhere K, Mr Gordon calls for immediate re-openings of places of worship.  

Mr Gordon urges members of the Jewish community, “especially Rabbinical leaders”, to take part in a letter-writing campaign to the Prime Minister, the Communities Secretary and local Members of Parliament asking that a return to communal prayer be permitted by July 4.

Mr Gordon rejected allegations that his appeal 'Religious Lives Matter' trivialised anti-racism protests. 

He said: "I am not trivialising anything, and to suggest that I am is absolute nonsense."

"On the contrary," he said, "faith and religious freedom from   a crucial part of this country’s democratic tradition, and certainly matter to the lives of scores of thousands within our  multi-cultural borough of Barnet."

A number of Charedi synagogues have reopened after government guidelines permitted "private prayer" to take place in houses of worship, despite progressive and mainstream Orthodox synagogues remaining closed. 

Mr Gordon, who is a strictly Orthodox Conservative councillor, has a history of making controversial remarks about the role of women and the teaching of same-sex relationships in schools.

In April 2007, Mr Gordon was condemned in Parliament and was forced to apologise after photos surfaced showing him wearing blackface in an impersonation of former South African President and anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela at a Purim party.

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