Rabbi condemned for saying Islam 'has no place in Britain'

Rabbi Menahem Lester wrote: 'I am among many who feel Islam has no place in Europe and certainly not in Britain'


Jewish leaders have condemned a former South London Synagogue minister for saying Islam has "no place" in Britain.

In a letter to the Jewish News, Rabbi Menahem Lester attacked the paper's reports criticising Boris Johnson's comments about Muslim women who wear the burka.

Mr Johnson had likened women wearing face-coverings to "letter boxes" and "bank robbers".

Rabbi Lester said countries that have banned the burka had done so for “good reason.”

He wrote: “I am among many who feel Islam has no place in Europe and certainly not in Britain.”

He said the burka “represents the imposition of Muslim influence over their surroundings.

“I disagree with Boris Johnson- the burka should be banned-but I agree with his attempt to lighten the atmosphere. The British were once known for their sense of humour and maybe the Jews also; only Islam is intolerant and has no sense of humour,” he wrote.

Edie Friedman, executive director of the Jewish Council for Racial Equality said Rabbi Lester’s comments were “so outrageous I didn't even think it came from a real person.

“It doesn't take much imagination to think how Jews would feel if the same was said about Judaism.

“Such coarsening of public discourse threatens the very social cohesion on which we all depend. We really need to take a step back and make sure we are able to discuss issues in an unemotional manner, free from bigotry.”

Geoffrey Harris, chairman of the South London Synagogue said Rabbi Lester’s views did not represent the shul.

He said: “The South London Synagogue is situated in Lambeth, one of the most diverse boroughs in the country. Seven years ago Rabbi Lester made Aliyah, his comments on Islam do not reflect the view of the synagogue to other minority groups in the borough.”

Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner, Reform Judaism's senior rabbi said: “As a British rabbi I reject the letter and the statement that Islam has no place in Europe.

“I strongly believe in our shared destiny as Jews and Muslims.”

She added: “We have to remain vigilant. These attitudes that are expressed about Islam and Muslims will affect Jews and the same with what is said about Jews will affect Muslims.”

Rabbi David Mason, of Muswell Hill Synagogue, also condemned the comments.

“As a Rabbinic leader I have taken great comfort in developing solid relationships between my local community and local Muslim communities.

"When people attack Islam or Muslims in what they say or write, it may be helpful for them to substitute our identity for Islam. We need to be overly careful not to offend others in ways that against us, these very words would be wholly hurtful."

Other figures in the Jewish community condemned Mr Johnson’s comments at the time, including Jonathan Goldstein, the chairman of the Jewish Leadership Council, who said his remarks were “totally disgraceful”.

Adrian Cohen, the chairman of the London Jewish Forum, said Mr Johnson’s remarks “should be of grave concern” the Jewish community.

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