Rabbi warns against 'sympathy for extreme right' and accuses Boris Johnson of 'racism with a smile'

The ex-foreign secretary likened veil-wearing Muslim women to 'letter boxes' and 'bank robbers'


A leading rabbi has said he is concerned about what he thinks is increasing “sympathy to the extreme right” among British Jews, as he warned of "racism with a smile" after Boris Johnson’s remarks about Muslim women wearing burkas.

In his Daily Telegraph column, the former foreign secretary likened women wearing face-coverings to "letter boxes" and "bank robbers". Mr Johnson also described such women as “weird” and “ridiculous”.

Rabbi David Mason, the minister of Muswell Hill Synagogue, called Mr Johnson’s comments “racism with a smile”, saying they were “very problematic and raise a big concern”.

He told the JC: “As the Jewish community is facing antisemitism from the far left we have to be clear about what we see on the right as well.

“One thing I worry about – and I see a lot of it on social media – is too many Jewish people who are sympathetic to those on the more extreme right.

“If we saw people arguing against Judaism in the way we see those on the right argue against Islam we would have a problem with it. Wherever we see Islamophobia we need to stand up against it.”

Other figures in the Jewish community also condemned Mr Johnson’s comments, 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.

He said: “The language Boris has chosen to use about Muslim women’s dress is not so much dog whistling against British Muslims as using a mega-phone, which will only embolden the far right and the bigots in our society and that is a threat both to Muslims (as the targeted victims) but also (albeit in a secondary manner) to all religious minorities and ultimately all of us invested in an enriched diverse society.

“We all lose when irrational bigotry and fear are stimulated by those from the mainstream of British politics.”

Edie Friedman, director of the Jewish Council on Racial Equality, said: "Boris Johnson’s dog whistle racism should be condemned unequivocally. It is not the first time he has done this and one could reasonably ask what action has been taken?

"This shows the urgent need for all institutions including political parties to have clear and robust procedures in place to ensure all communities have the confidence that racism, including antisemitism and Islamophobia, will be dealt with swiftly and transparently, wherever it appears. Failure to do so is particularly dangerous at a time when the far right is again growing in strength.”

Brandon Lewis, chairman of the Conservative Party, has said Mr Johnson should apologise.

Last month it was reported that Mr Johnson had met Steve Bannon, Donald Trump's controversial former chief of staff.

The Jewish Labour Movement told the JC Mr Johnson was "courting those who have enabled right wing antisemitism to seep into the mainstream".

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