‘We don’t have a vetting problem,’ insists Greens deputy leader

Zack Polanski said the Board should be renamed “Board of Deputies for the Israeli government” in combative interview with the JC


BRIGHTON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 07: Zack Polanski, deputy leader of the Green Party speaks to delegates at Brighton Centre on October 07, 2023 in Brighton, England. The Green Party convenes in Brighton for its annual conference. Deputy Leader, Zack Polanski, addresses the conference today. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

The Jewish deputy leader of the Green Party has denied that his party has a vetting problem, telling the JC that any suggestion that it has a problem with antisemitic candidates would be a “huge overstretch”.

In an interview in Stamford Hill, Zack Polanski, 41, defended his party’s record, adding that its manifesto pledges to demand an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and restore UNWRA funding were not “central messages”.

Polanksi grew up as a Zionist in the mainstream Jewish community in Manchester, attending King David school and Habonim Dror youth group. Before he went to university, he said, he didn’t have many friends outside the Jewish community.

Yet now he is deputy leader of a movement that has a reputation for more anti-Israel measures than any other mainstream political party. Speaking to the JC, Polanski took little responsibility for this volte face. His position on Israel changed, he claimed, simply because “Israel has changed”, especially since October 7.

Since the election was called, the Greens have been criticised for embracing a section of the hard-left that was no longer welcome in Sir Keir Starmer’s Labour Party.

Last month, the party was forced to abandon a potential candidate in Bristol East, Naseem Talukdar, after the JC revealed that he had compared Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu to Adolf Hitler on social media.

Elizabeth Waight, the party’s candidate for Bethnal Green and Stepney, decided to withdraw after she posted a video in March in which a woman said: “What’s left for the Zionists [is] to eat the flesh and drink the blood of the Palestinians… I think this will happen soon.”

Three others have been suspended by the party pending an investigation.

Polanski made no attempt to defend these cases but insisted that it was unfair to say the Greens had a problem vetting their candidates.

“It's not to say that one case of antisemitism is OK. One case is one case too many,” he said. 

"I think there's an issue around antisemitic tropes or at least problematic behaviour in all parties, and that's because that exists in our society.”

He added that it’s the first time that the Greens have stood candidates in all constituencies, and the huge step up for the party is a challenge.

“I think when you get hundreds of people together, you can't possibly know every single candidate,” he said. “You can't possibly know every single candidate's history on social media or every thought they've ever had.”

But the Greens’ difficulties appear to extend beyond a few questionable candidates. They have been criticised, for instance, for “stirring up divisions” with the heavy use of Palestinian colours and imagery on election leaflets in competitive seats in Bristol.

Polanski played this down, maintaining that Gaza was just one of the causes that his party cared about.

"I make no apology that that has been part of our campaigning messaging because I think that speaks to a lot of people in this country and not just Muslim voters, which often gets conflated,” he said.

"I think lots of people care about Gaza, lots of people in the Jewish community care about Gaza.”

He also blamed “people that are no friends of the Jews” for the controversy over a Green councillor who was filmed celebrating his victory in Leeds May with a Palestinian flag and cries of “Allahu Akhbar”.

Mothin Ali, 42, later apologised after he was criticised for calling his local election victory a "win for the people of Gaza".

The reason that story was covered so widely was because it was pushed by far-right provocateur Tommy Robinson, Polanski claimed.

The number of Jews who don’t support Israel is undercounted in the UK community, the deputy leader insisted.

When asked about recent JPR research that showed that a majority of Jews would describe themselves as Zionist, he speculated that non-Zionists were less likely to show up in mainstream Jewish polls.

Institutions like the Board of Deputies shouldn’t assume everyone shares their views on Israel, he added, suggesting that they should be renamed the “Board of Deputies for the Israeli government”.

He pointed to the supposed growth of fringe, radical movements like Na’amod to back up his belief that many Jews share his views on Gaza, but did not provide any figures to back up this claim.

The Greens have a realistic chance of winning four seats in this election, none with a significant Jewish community. They are unlikely to be part of any government on July 5th, so have less reason to moderate their position on Israel than Labour.

It remains uncertain whether their attempt to build a base on their traditional focus on the environment combined with campaigning for Gaza will be effective.

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