Misgivings over antisemitism in the most Labour-friendly Jewish seat

Diane Abbott, the shadow Home Secretary, has represented Hackney North and Stoke Newington since 1987, but there are signs her Jewish support is waning


With its unique combination of Charedim and left-leaning, bohemian Jews, Hackney North and Stoke Newington is almost certainly the most Labour-friendly of the ‘Jewish’ seats.

But that’s not to say that Diane Abbott, the shadow Home Secretary, and her party still enjoy the support from the community they once did.

Voters from both the Orthodox and more secular communities report deep misgivings over the party’s response to the ongoing row over antisemitism in its ranks.

Rabbi Avraham Pinter, the principal of Yesodey Hatorah Senior Girls’ School and one of the chief spokesmen for the Charedi community, said: “The community here has tended to vote Labour. In Tottenham it’s a bit different – they tend to be more to the Conservatives.

“People are confused about what to do in this situation. There is no question Diane Abbott is opposed to antisemitism — nobody doubts that. There is just concern that, has she always recognised it?”

Rabbi Pinter also reported a degree of “apathy” among those opposed to Ms Abbott, saying the real question in the Labour stronghold is “whether the majority is 35,000 or 40,000”.

Rabbi Herschel Gluck, a Charedi stalwart, defended Ms Abbott if not Labour, saying that in her 32 years as MP she had been “an extremely good, very helpful local MP”.

He said: “She has done a lot for the local community — especially on immigration. There are a lot of people who get married to people from abroad and then have immigration issues. She’s been very helpful in resolving things with people coming into the country.

“She’s also helped with social housing, and on education she’s been very helpful. There are many poor Jews in the area. Diane has always been a very committed MP whenever Jews need help.”

For many non-Charedi constituents, who tend to reside in Stoke Newington rather than Stamford Hill, it will be the first election in their lifetimes they will consider abandoning Labour.

In a constituency which registered the third-largest Remain vote in 2016 — 79.1 per cent — there is a longstanding affinity for the party’s historic social and economic worldview.

One Jewish voter, a mother-of-three, said: “My family and I have benefited massively from the NHS. I would never trust any other party.

“Another thing is I’m very anti-Brexit; my parents were immigrants. I have a huge affinity with the wider European project. It’s what I feel most strongly about. Brexit is a disaster – an economic and political disaster.

“But I have been disappointed by Diane Abbott. She has minimised and denied the antisemitism in the party. Whether or not you decide to vote Labour will come down to your conscience. Some people may feel that antisemitism is just one issue, or put aside their concerns for the greater good.”

Ms Abbott told the JC that it was “a matter of deep regret that some Jewish people feel unable to vote Labour,” insisting that the party is “doing everything we can to root out antisemitism everywhere”.

She pointed to her record on issues relating to the Charedi community – particularly her opposition to the Conservative’s controversial ‘two child’ policy, which sought to only provide Universal Credit to a maximum of two children. It was scrapped in January.

The shadow Home Secretary added: “When I was a new MP, I campaigned in support of Orthodox schools becoming voluntary aided schools.

“I have spoken out on a wide range of issues, including raising concerns about Ofsted, and campaigning and bringing a motion about the government putting the lives of Yemeni Jewish people in danger by not doing enough to save them from extremism abroad.

“I have also defended the rights of religious communities in relation to the ritual slaughter of animals. I support community institutions such as Agudas Israel and Shomrim.

“I believe I have a very good relationship, built up over many years, with many members of the Orthodox community. I certainly aim to.

“The Labour Party has historically been the natural home for many in the Jewish community. It is absolutely wrong that any religious or ethnic minority should feel that Labour is not on their side.”

With 11.3 per cent of her constituents identifying as Jewish, only Hendon, Finchley and Golders Green, and Hertsmere are more Jewish.

Running against her are Liberal Democrat Ben Mathis; Alex Armitage of the Green Party; and Haseeb Ur- Rehman, of the pro-Remain Renew Party. The Conservatives have yet to select a candidate.

Mr Mathis told the JC he would attempt to appeal to Jewish voters most strongly on the issue of “rising antisemitism,” as well as the “quite specific needs” of the Charedi community.

He said: “If there’s one thing I’d like to put across to the community in Hackney it is that we would really like them to talk to us. We want to be engaged with all parts of the community. The only way we can change things is by changing them.”

Mr Armitage said that he hoped his party’s messaging around localism and environmentalism would chime with Charedi voters, in particular.

He said: “The way of solving the climate crisis is with smaller communities, and living more simply.

“I think that will have a lot of electoral resonance in the Orthodox community, especially in the rejection of consumerist lifestyles.”

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