The presence of a self-described “mosque buster” at a residents’ meeting to oppose a new Islamic centre in Golders Green was deeply offensive, Board of Deputies president Jonathan Arkush said.
He was speaking during the Board’s discussion of plans to convert the Golders Green Hippodrome, a former concert hall and Christian centre, into a building serving the Shia community in northwest London.
The centre has been controversial in the local community, with a meeting of more than 100 Golders Green residents held last week to discuss ways of forcing its closure.
Among the speakers at that meeting was Gavin Boby, a planning lawyer and director of the Law and Freedom Foundation who has been called a “mosque buster” for the 47 campaigns he has waged against opening mosques in the UK.
Mr Arkush told the Board’s October meeting on Sunday: “The public meeting where they had an individual who called themselves a mosque buster – I found that deeply offensive.
“I found a lot of the comments put on that petition to bring our community into disrepute, frankly.
“They were unworthy of Jewish people and if any were made by members of our community I find that a matter of regret.”
Jonathan Davies, from Golders Green Synagogue, addressed the meeting to say that the hippodrome’s proximity to his community meant they were one of the most closely affected, but he had received no objections from his congregants.
He said that part of the planning application was to change the hippodrome’s use from a church to a place of worship.
“I can find only one way to describe opposition to that change of use, which is religious discrimination,” he said.
To applause in the hall, he added: “If it was legitimate for it to be used as a church, it is equally legitimate for it to be used for any other place of worship.”
But Gary Mond, from JNF, said the Board should have done more to contact the thousands of people who signed a petition that opposes the new Islamic centre.
He said the Board should “talk to them about what the feelings [are] of what are largely Jewish residents, who are very unhappy about the situation and to show a degree of empathy and understanding, rather than use language such as ‘racist bigots’ and other such language that has been used in the Jewish press, and in particular in the Jewish Chronicle.”
In response, Mr Arkush said the petition organisers had remained "resolutely anonymous".
He said he had corresponded with one petition organiser by email, but that the messages to him had been “beyond discourteous” and that his requests for the group to stop using the name “Golders Green Together” had been ignored.