Diane Abbott under attack in Hackney over Labour’s antisemitism record

The party’s perceived failure to deal with the antisemitism crisis has left strictly Orthodox voters unsure whether they can support her.


Diane Abbott, the Shadow Home Secretary, says a Labour government would continue to fund the Community Security Trust’s protection of Jewish schools and synagogues.

Writing in the JC, the candidate for Hackney North and Stoke Newington, says the party would also extend funding to Shomrim, the neighbourhood watch group run by volunteers, which protects strictly Orthodox Jews in the constituency.

Outlining her relationship with the Jewish community and her future plans, Ms Abbott pledges to reverse the Conservative government’s cap on child tax credits.

She says she would scrap the policy which restricts financial support to the first two children in a family and described it as “cruel and unfair,” particularly for the way it impacts the Charedi community.

Ms Abbott, who is defending one of the safest Labour seats in the country and a 24,008 majority, also wants to do more to honour Jewish men and women who served in the Second World War.

“As that generation passes away I think government should find a way to memorialise them further,” she writes.

Ms Abbott has enjoyed a good relationship with Jews in the constituency, where the community makes up 11.3 per cent of the vote. However, the party’s perceived failure to deal with the antisemitism crisis has left strictly Orthodox voters unsure whether they can support her.

Rabbi Avraham Pinter, an ex-Labour councillor, says for the first time in more than 30 years he “might not vote” at all because of the “pain” and “anguish” caused by what he called Ms Abbott’s unwillingness to recognise Labour’s antisemitism problem.

“I have watched as the problem has got worse and worse. There is a blatant complacency from Labour when it comes to dealing with the issue,” he says.

“I find it concerning that issues such as Ken Livingstone and Jackie Walker have been allowed to happen, with Labour missing every opportunity to act.”

Rabbi Pinter, a prominent figure in Europe’s largest Charedi community, claims repeated attempts to talk to Ms Abbott, someone he considers a friend, have failed.

“She has been a good MP, she has been supportive of faith schools and although she has an exemplary record on fighting racism, she has yet to recognise there is a problem in her party.”

Rabbi Pinter, who says he has felt uncomfortable at local Labour party meetings, believes a lack of confidence in Ms Abbott’s ability to represent the community’s concerns, is growing.

“It is a major issue for the whole community. I am criticised by people for even being a member of the party. But this is my party.”

Amy Gray, Conservative candidate in the seat, says she has picked up on feelings of dissent and anger directed at Labour from Jewish voters on the doorstep.

Ms Gray says: “I’ve debated Diane a number of times. She doesn’t spend enough time on the doorstep. She is pitching to be Home Secretary and that is a big job with lots of responsibility.”

The 33-year-old former teacher at a Hackney girls secondary school said the classroom was the ideal preparation for becoming an MP.

“I had girls in my classes who were born and educated in Britain but couldn’t read. They would say ‘what is the point? I want to get pregnant and get a council house’.

“I didn’t understand how we had got to this position as a country. It made me think about how we construct public services to do the right thing.”

Of Theresa May, Ms Gray says: “I think a lot of people like her. They understand her and she has a clear message and the Jewish community know she has a clear message on Israel too.

“This is an election about national leadership, people have to think about who the best leader is and that message resonates in Hackney and around the country.”

Ms Gray acknowledges that housing is a key issue for Jews in the constituency.

“Building one and two-bedroom homes is not enough. People want to be able to extend their family and their homes so they can stay with the community and I am keen to support that.”

Levi Shapiro, founder of the Jewish Community Council, believes life-long Labour voters are considering voting Conservative for the first time.

“You can’t blame them for it,” Mr Shapiro says. “The wind is changing and a lot of people in the community are going with the Conservatives. Diane Abbott is not in touch with how the community feels. She doesn’t come across as sympathetic.”

Mr Shapiro has his own concerns about the Labour candidate and the possibility of her becoming Home Secretary.

“She would be a nightmare with the Home Office in her hands.”

But there remains support for her, based on her track-record.

Rabbi Herschel Gluck, Shomrim president, explains: “I am not an expert on the big picture, but as a local MP she has been devoted.”

He says Ms Abbott has been “helpful and committed to all residents of Hackney. She might be friends with Corbyn but she is her own person in her own right and that is how I judge her.

“The community votes in all different ways, but there has been a large segment of our community who vote Labour because it is a natural home

- I don’t think that will change.”

(A shorter version of this article appears in the May 19 edition of the JC)

See all our Election 2017 coverage here

Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive