Jews accuse Jonathan Arkush of encouraging hatred against Muslims over London Bridge attack

Dozens of people from across the community sign letter protesting at Board president’s call for Muslim rally against terror


The president of the Board of Deputies has been criticised for “fanning the flames of inter-community hatred” in the wake of the London Bridge terror attack.

Jonathan Arkush wrote a comment piece for the JC in which he called on Britain’s Muslim community to “stand up and be counted - to go beyond mere condemnation” of the attack carried out by jihadists in which eight people were killed.

While recognising that “the vile terrorists responsible for these attacks are not representative of British Muslims”, Mr Arkush asked the Muslim community “to stage a huge rally of their own in a prominent location such as Trafalgar Square”.

In his piece, which was published on Tuesday, Mr Arkush asked that secular and religious Muslim leaders “make the point loudly and publicly that these attacks are a perversion of Islam and the attackers will be liable to be punished after death and not rewarded in heaven”.

In addition he said: “Every British mosque should be holding its own protest against terrorism, proclaiming Not in our Name.”

But his words have angered some UK Jews, with more than 80 people from synagogues and communal organisations across the community, as well as many non-afiliated individuals, signing an open letter which went live on Wednesday.

In it they expressed their concern at Mr Arkush’s stance, which was written “purportedly in our name”.

The letter opens with an expression of sympathy for the victims of the attacks in London and Manchester and tells Mr Arkush: “As a senior representative of our community, you have a responsibility to display Jewish values of compassion, healing, and community in response to these horrible events ‒ not contribute to the atmosphere of anti-Muslim sentiment in the UK.

“It is not the time to be fanning the flames of inter-community hatred, as Donald Trump has in attacking Sadiq Khan based on his ethnicity. We reject your using our names to do so.”

Those behind the letter, who are calling on more people to put their name to their protest, added: “It is deeply troubling to see a leader of the British Jewish community calling for the universal scrutiny of a religious group based on the actions of a tiny minority.

“We particularly reject the assertion that members of a religious or ethnic group must quickly and publicly denounce any members of that group who act repugnantly. We hope you will remember that this has been used to persecute Jews in living memory. Just as we as Jews have no responsibility for the actions of Jewish terrorist groups, Muslims are not personally responsible for the actions of groups such as ISIS.”

The signatories say they are “deeply troubled with your presuming to enforce a mandatory public reaction on the entire Muslim community” and finish by adding: “We commend the Muslim community leaders who have spoken out against the terrorists, but it is not for us to dictate how people in grieving communities should respond. We stand with all our Muslim sisters and brothers, and all people of faith and no faith, in love and healing from these atrocities - together.”

In response to the criticism, Board of Deputies Vice President Marie van der Zyl said: “Jonathan could not have been clearer when he said, ‘I have no doubt that that the vile terrorists responsible for these attacks are not representative of British Muslims’.

"Jonathan has dedicated his presidency to engaging with Muslim communities around the country and calling out divisive anti-Muslim rhetoric, including from Donald Trump.

"In this article, Jonathan was echoing many eminent Muslim leaders in calling for their communities to reclaim their faith from the extremists. We have been glad to see initiatives like imams refusing to perform burial prayers for the terrorists and a number of Muslim groups that were already thinking about the sorts of things Jonathan said even before he said them. The answers to this question of how to tackle extremism are certainly not simple, but we won’t get anywhere through spurious name-calling.”

Mohammed Amin, the co-chair of the Muslim Jewish Forum of Greater Manchester, said he did not agree with the critics' interpretation of Mr Arkush's article.

He said: "I believe the letter-writers are reading too much into his words, and in particular his use of the word 'must'. Sometimes that word is a command, possibly peremptory, and sometimes it is used simply to express advice using a stronger formulation than 'should'. 

"I do not believe Jonathan spent a long time agonising about the choice of word, and instead we should read his article as a whole, where he is clearly giving advice to British Muslims, something that everyone has the right to do."

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