Board president Marie van der Zyl meets Baroness Warsi privately to discuss 'concern and past disagreement'

The JC understands Baroness Warsi tried to lobby her on relations with fast-growing Muslim advocacy group


The president of the Board of Deputies has held a private meeting with Baroness Warsi, the former Minister for Faith and Communities and ex-Conservative Party chair, to discuss “matters of common concern and past disagreement”.

Marie van der Zyl met the peer for talks in Central London last week in a meeting set up following a request from Gerald Ronson, the chairman of the Community Security Trust. 

The Board confirmed the meeting took place, but refused to give further details on the agenda. 

But the JC understands that Baroness Warsi attempted to lobby Mrs van der Zyl on the issue of relations with Mend — Muslim Engagement and Development — the fastest-growing and most active Muslim advocacy group in Britain.

The pair also discussed overcoming the “sometimes strained” relationship between the Baroness and former Board president Jonathan Arkush.

A source said the session had also included a conversation on possible joint efforts from the Jewish and Muslim communities to tackle antisemitism and Islamophobia within the main political parties. Baroness Warsi has been vocal over claims the Conservative Party suffers from a “widespread” Islamophobia problem and has called for an “independent inquiry” into the matter.

But her decision to urge Mrs van der Zyl to consider greater engagement with groups including Mend will be a cause for concern for many in the Jewish community.

In April the JC revealed Baroness Warsi’s close relationship with the organisation, which she has previously said “has the potential for real change”.

It is known she hopes to make Mend more presentable to MPs, government and civil society following accusations that it has “regularly hosted illiberal, intolerant and extremist Islamist speakers at public events”.

A Home Office assessment of Mend warned against engaging with the group over fears it promoted an Islamist agenda.

Mrs van der Zyl said last November, while serving as a Board vice-president, that Mend was “not an organisation we can work with”.

Allegations against Mend, which the group denies, include claims its supporters have engaged in rampant antisemitism and conspiracy theories about Jews; claims of sectarianism against fellow Muslims; and reported partnerships with clerics and organisations which have expressed antisemitic, homophobic and occasionally pro-terror views.

Baroness Warsi did not respond to requests for a comment about the meeting.

She was involved in a public row with Mr Arkush in March last year after she criticised British Jews who join the IDF.

In a statement at the time, Mr Arkush said: “Sayeeda Warsi lost all touch with reality when she walked out of government over her Gaza issues, and into well-earned obscurity.

“If she is really suggesting that a Briton who volunteers for the French Foreign Legion or serves in the armed forces of a close ally is a traitor, then no-one can treat her seriously.”

She hit back,  accusing Mr Arkush of sexism for saying in an earlier version of the statement that “she had flounced out of government”.

In previous evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee, the Board said it was “greatly disturbed by statements attributed to MEND", citing one by its chief executive Sufiyan Ismail, in which he claimed that “in 300 years the Israeli lobby has not lost a vote in Parliament”.

"Given that the state of Israel has only existed since 1948, the 'Israeli lobby' in this quote can only be a synonym for British Jews, of which Ismail celebrates that 'they were battered, absolutely battered'," the Board said in its evidence to the committee.

"While we have met representatives of MEND in the past, we would not intentionally meet with the organisation again until we are confident that it intends to promote a positive relationship towards Jews, the Jewish community and communal bodies and stands unequivocally opposed to extremism.

"As matters stand at present we are unable to work with MEND on any projects, and recommend that others look for alternative partners – such as Tell MAMA - in the work of combatting anti-Muslim hatred.”

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