Diane Abbott's office 'solicited' letter of support from Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations

Ms Abbott said she was 'so grateful' for letter but its author says her election agent asked it be sent



The Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations has said Diane Abbott's office solicited a letter of support it wrote to her that she has since used to challenge claims of Labour antisemitism.

The UOHC, an umbrella body that represents "the interests of Strictly Orthodox Jews", wrote to the shadow home secretary in March saying it believed she "wholeheartedly opposes antisemitism", contrary to “certain media reports”.

Ms Abbott tweeted the letter last week, as she was being accused of "using Charedi Jews for political gain" for saying "not every element of the Jewish community" thought Jeremy Corbyn was an antisemite.

The letter attacked media reports “which have alleged that you do not wholeheartedly oppose antisemitism” as “the views of one individual".

The letter to the shadow home secretary dismissed what it called “allegations” about Ms Abbott’s attitude towards antisemitism, saying that these “are in no way shared by our Rabbinate, nor by the community in general.”

But Rabbi Yaakov Conrad, registrar of the UOHC's rabbinate and the sole signatory of the letter that was sent on, told the JC it was issued because Ms Abbott’s election agent, Barry Gray requested it be sent.

Rabbi Conrad said he wrote the letter because Mr Gray had told the rabbinate at an official sitting of the Beth Din that Rabbi Avraham Pinter was suggesting that Ms Abbott "had a problem with antisemitism”.

Rabbi Pinter, a member of the Strictly Orthodox community in Stamford Hill and a former Labour councillor, had said publicly he was "shocked" by Ms Abbott's failure to intervene over a motion at the Hackney North Constituency Labour Party (CLP) that dismissed concerns over antisemitism.

He addied that he "no longer feels welcome" at CLP meetings and said: “The atmosphere is absolutely toxic these days."

Speaking this week, Rabbi Pinter said he was “distressed” to learn that he had been “used” to get the letter sent in support of Ms Abbott.

He told the JC: “I would never call Diane an antisemite. That has never been my view. I would have signed a letter myself condemning that. What I have done is speak out about her failure to recognise antisemitism on the left and in her party.”

When asked whether he solicited the letter, Mr Gray contradicted Rabbi Conrad's version of events.

Mr Gray said he visited the UOHC to “express solidarity with them following press reports about a motion passed by Hackney North CLP".

“I did not mention Rabbi Pinter or any other individual in the Charedi community. The letter the UOHC wrote was suggested by others in the meeting, not by me, and I was not involved in any discussion about the letter's contents," he said.

When asked how the two accounts of the meeting differed, he suggested that it could be because the majority of the meeting was conducted in Yiddish.

He suggested that Rabbi Conrad might have “mis-remembered” who said what and insisted that he “did not mention Rabbi Pinter nor request any letter".

The argument comes after Rabbi Pinter was “intimidated” after an anonymous text message sent his phone number around the Charedi community and urged people to call him to tell him to stop “endangering the community.”

He said it was triggered by the tweet Ms Abbot sent last week, which linked to the JC story about the letter in March.

She sent the tweet after Rabbi Pinter criticised her for comments on BBC Radio Four’s Today programme, when she suggested the Jewish community in Stamford Hill did not share the concerns about antisemitism as mainstream Jewish communal organisations.

He said Ms Abbott was "using Charedi Jews for political gain".

The JC has heard the audio of more than 10 calls that Rabbi Pinter received last Friday.

He said: “First of all I think it is disingenuous to solicit a letter on the grounds of something I didn’t say and not only don’t believe.

“I would like it if people stopped playing games with our community and addressed the very serious concerns we have over antisemitism in the party.”

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