Congregants hit back after rabbi signs letter ‘undermining fight against antisemitism’


A British rabbi has been criticised by his congregants after he signed an open letter which denied that there was antisemitism in the Labour party.

Rabbi Jeffrey Newman, the emeritus rabbi of Finchley Reform synagogue in north-west London, was one of 82 people who signed the letter in the Guardian last weekend.

The letter, which was published as the party’s antisemitism crisis continued amid a series of suspensions, read: “We are Jewish members and supporters of the Labour party and of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, who wish to put our perspective on the ‘antisemitism’ controversy that has been widely debated in the last few weeks.

“We do not accept that antisemitism is ‘rife’ in the Labour party. Of the examples that have been repeated in the media, many have been reported inaccurately, some are trivial, and a very few may be genuine examples of antisemitism.”

Finchley Reform members distanced themselves from Rabbi Newman’s decision to sign the letter.

A letter to the JC, signed by eight FRS members, read: “We are writing to express our disgust at the way our synagogue has been portrayed as undermining the fight against antisemitism from wherever it appears.”

It added: “For the record, he was not acting in our name.”

The letter was signed by Jonathan and Caroline Glass, Stephen Spencer Ryde, Gaynor Bond, Malcolm and Dahlia Bloom, Alison Vale-Harris and Howard Harris.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has been accused of doing too little to tackle antisemitism within his party’s rank. Mr Corbyn has launched an inquiry to address the issue. It will be chaired by Shami Chakrabarti, former director of human rights group Liberty.

The party lost key votes in Jewish areas in Scotland and England. Figures including Labour MP John Mann said comments made by Ken Livingstone had damaged the party. Mr Livingstone had claimed that Hitler was a “Zionist”.

The letter in the Guardian added: “The tiny number of cases of real antisemitism need to be dealt with, but we are proud that the Labour party historically has been in the forefront of the fight against all forms of racism. We, personally, have not experienced any antisemitic prejudice in our dealings with Labour party colleagues.

“As Jews, we are appalled that a serious issue is being used in this cynical and manipulative way, diverting attention from much more widespread examples of Islamophobia and xenophobia in the Conservative and other parties. We dissociate ourselves from the misleading attacks on Labour from some members of the Jewish community.

“We urge others, who may be confused or worried by recent publicity, to be sure that the Labour party, under its present progressive leadership, is a place where Jews are welcomed in a spirit of equality and solidarity.”

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