Board of Deputies President Marie van der Zyl has told a conference of London councillors discussing rising antisemitism in the UK that “we have seen the warning signs of genocide before.”
Speaking during a panel event at the Seminar for Councillors event on Sunday, organised by the Board and the Jewish Leadership Council, Mrs van der Zyl was responding to a question from one attendee in the audience about the response from the community to allegations of Jew-hate within Labour .
Echoing the words of JLC chair Jonathan Goldstein, Adrian Cohen, chair of the London Jewish Forum, suggested “this was not a fight we chose”.
Mrs van der Zyl then intervened to make her remark about “genocide.”
A spokesperson for the Board of Deputies clarified Mrs van der Zyl’s remarks on Monday saying: "The President was saying that genocide does not begin overnight, but with hate speech and then violent acts.
“That is why we must take a robust stance against all kinds of antisemitism, anti-Muslim hatred or prejudice of any kind, whether in person or online.
"This is borne out by the horrifying events in Pittsburgh, when someone ranting online, but led to the worst antisemitic attack in US history."
Also sitting on the same panel, which was chaired by the Board’s director of communications Phil Rosenberg, were JLC director of policy and public affairs Claudia Mendoza and Lee Scott, the former Ilford North MP.
One councillor contacted the JC on Monday to suggest they were “surprised by the severity” of Mrs van der Zyl’s remarks.
Mr Scott later told the audience: "Together across all communities we can come together. We will not be scapegoats. We will strengthen each other.”
In a separate panel discussion, Edwin Shuker, one of the Board’s vice-presidents, received some criticism over his claim that Arab Jews and Muslims had lived in harmony and the “first time that harmony was disturbed was in the 1940s.”
On Twitter, Tzipporah Feiga wrote: "I really hope this is a misquote or at least taken wildly out of context because otherwise it’s demonstrably untrue and kind of disturbing.
“To pretend there was no anti-Jewish persecution in the Muslim world is wrong and unhelpful.”
Also speaking at the event was Holocaust survivor Dr Martin Stern, who gave a powerful testimony of his time at both Westerbork and Theresienstadt concentration camps.
There was also discussion on the importance of welfare within the community, social action, Israel and the strictly orthodox community.
The JLC's Claudia Mendoza said there was a wealth of organisations in the Jewish community focusing on many issues including social care, social action, international development, homelessness, human rights, and employment.