Conservative MP accuses chief rabbi of demanding 'special status' for Britain's Jews

Exclusive: Crispin Blunt rebuked by JLC, which says he should 'clarify if he supports the concept of freedom of religion, a cornerstone of liberal democracy'


A Conservative MP has accused Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis of demanding a “special status” for Britain's Jews and has backed calls for “eliminating subsidies” to the Community Security Trust to “save taxpayers' money.”

In comments made at a fringe event at the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester, Crispin Blunt also failed to distance himself from calls to campaign against “infant circumcision” and against the “stunned slaughter of animals.”

Former Foreign Affairs Select Committee chair Mr Blunt was speaking in his new role as patron of the Conservative Humanists group - who hosted their controversial event at Tory Conference on Monday night, during Rosh Hashanah.

The event was held at the Midland Hotel, which shared the majority of Tory Conference events with the Manchester Convention, during this week's gathering, and was protected with a wall of security by police.

Conservative Humanists chair James Baird had led the attack on the Chief Rabbi during his own speech at the event, after referring to his speech at an inter-faith conference last month in Madrid in which he had criticised humanists in Britain for their attacks on circumcision and faith schools.

At a fringe event, titled Right To Leave: Global Intolerance Towards Non-religious Apostates which was advertised in the official Tory Conference booklet, Mr Baird said: "A couple of weeks ago Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis was in the press calling for humanists not to, and I quote, ’Stoop to intolerance of faith communities and practices’.

“Our response can only be clear. Religious practices cannot be seen as being above reproach and religious groups cannot and should not be given a free pass to carry out practices often in direct violation to individual rights and freedoms.”

One member of the audience, wearing an official Tory Party lanyard, then intervened and said: “Or the law."

Mr Baird agreed, saying: “And the law, indeed.”

When asked whether he agreed with Mr Baird’s speech, Mr Blunt told the JC: "I think what he was saying was regarding the demand for special status … what’s required is for everyone to have tolerance of other people’s position and not to impose unfair views.”

Mr Blunt - who has become known for his anti-Israel views - also backed the call made by Conservative Humanists, in a leaflet distributed to those who attended the meeting, to “save taxpayers' money by eliminating subsidies assigned to religious groups over other civil organisations.’”

Asked by the JC if this was a reference to the £14 million grant from the government to the Community Security Trust in order to help fund protection for the community in a climate of rising antisemitism Mr Blunt said: “Play that against the Muslim community, which is where we have got to be very careful.”

He added that while the “Jewish community has a special place in Britain” and the CST does a “good job in protecting them” his “anxiety is that we have got to get to where faith and non-faith communities all feel secure.”

Mr Blunt said we needed to get to “a place where the Jewish community does not feel the need to have its own security.”

In response, a Jewish Leadership Council spokesperson told the JC: "Jews do not have and do not ask for special status.

“Mr Blunt should clarify if he supports the concept of freedom of religion, a cornerstone of liberal democracy.”

At the event, which was staged in alliance with Humanists UK, Mr Baird also said: “We should prioritise human rights and welfare and ethical animal welfare above religious practices.”

He also called for “campaigning on issues such as infant circumcision, female genital mutilation, and against stunned slaughter of animals.”

In his own speech at the event, Mr Blunt said a British exit from the European Union should be used “to demonstrate that global commitment to values around the world.”

He added: “It’s not a force for narrow nationalism. It’s change from being what is in effect a white Christian European settlement into a global internationalism.”

Asked by the JC to defend Conservative Humanists' position on religious slaughter with regard shechita, Mr Blunt said: “If people want kosher food, they can have kosher food - but any religious practice has got to be consistent with our laws on animal cruelty.

“Whether or not I would subscribe to that law is another matter.”

Mr Baird told the JC: "I don’t think it is appropriate for any religion to be above the law.”

Tory sources were keen to stress that the fringe event did not reflect the opinion of the mainstream party.

But the event went ahead inside the secure zone in Manchester which could only be accessed by members and supporters approved by party chiefs to be at the conference.

Mr Blunt has repeatedly drawn criticism from communal leaders in the past over his criticism of Israel and his decision to once share a platform with blood libel cleric Raed Salah.

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