An influx of hard-left councillors in next month’s local elections would make it hard to maintain positive community relations, a leading rabbi has predicted.
Rabbi David Mason, of Muswell Hill Synagogue, said he was “nervous” about the expected takeover of the council in Haringey, North-West London, by the Momentum activism group which is loyal to Jeremy Corbyn.
“I think it is fair to say that if Labour do win, which I think they will, that it will mean I have to do a lot more engagement,” Rabbi Mason said.
“I have always had great relationships with councillors but I worry the harder left influence will cause divisions in the interfaith work we do, particularly with the Muslim community.”
The local Labour Party group will be defending a 49-seat majority when voters head to the polls next week and there is little doubt that the party will maintain its control of the authority.
But a third of current Labour councillors are expected to be replaced by Momentum activists either as a result of deselection or because councillors have decided to stand down.
Claire Kober, the Labour leader of the council for a decade, announced earlier this year she would not stand again due to abuse she received from the hard-left.
Many residents are concerned that the area has become a hotbed for antisemitism, and Rabbi Mason said Labour’s difficulties in tackling Jew-hate were a key issue for his congregants.
“As a community we are diverse and have always voted for all sorts of people. But there are traditional Labour voters who are going to find it hard on May 3,” the religious leader said.
“Antisemitism has become such a big issue that there are concerns like homelessness and mental health that community members are not able to engage with — traditionally they would.”
For many in Haringey, the turning point was a fractious meeting of the council last summer in which hard-left activists screamed at councillors as they adopted a new definition of antisemitism.
Rabbi Mason said he was sad that many of his congregants now felt Labour was not a home for them.
Suraj Bhanot, Conservative Party candidate for the Stroud Green ward, said Jewish residents he had canvassed nearly always expressed concern about antisemitism.
The 29-year-old, who is Hindu, has lived in the borough for two years and said he “hopes a clear signal will be sent to Labour” by voters.
“I don’t expect them to lose but there is an appetite out there for a party that is more of the centre.
“Even people who say they would never vote Conservative have been saying we are more in line with their way of thinking.”
He said he was anxious about what a potential Momentum takeover of the ward would mean.
“It is concerning. Because of de-selections and councillors standing down, people are voting for a Labour Party that they think they can trust without knowing what is happening.”
Mr Bhanot said crime and housing issues were also important to voters.
“A Momentum-led council will mean people talking about ideology instead of real and local issues.”
Author Linda Grant, a former Labour member who lives in the Stroud Green ward, said she would probably “not vote at all”.
“Two of the councillors in my ward are set to be replaced by Momentum candidates and I’m concerned about the hard-left turn.
“I’m much more concerned about what is happening on a national level and the problem of antisemitism in Labour is national.”
She said she was also concerned by Charley Allan, a Jewish candidate backed by Momentum, who is standing in Crouch End and poised to take over from current councillor Natan Doron.
Mr Allan has previously said he did not think comments made by Ken Livingstone about Hitler supporting Zionism were antisemitic
Mr Doron and his fellow Jewish councillor Joe Goldberg have complained of “impossible” and “toxic” atmospheres, citing antisemitism within the party as a reason for them deciding to stand down.
Both men have faced abuse from local party activists and told the JC last month of the difficulties they had encountered.
But not everyone in Haringey agrees with the picture painted by the pair.
A letter sent to the JC by 13 Jewish Haringey residents and signed by Mr Allan stated: “We do not recognise that Labour has become toxic as a reflection of reality.”
They added: “We have a number of Jewish candidates and sitting councillors who are standing in the local elections in May, as well as many other Jewish members and activists who continue to uphold the proud Jewish tradition of fighting injustice and inequality for the common good.”
Anna Lawton, a co-chair of last year’s Limmud Festival, is standing for Labour in the Fortis Green ward.
She said Jewish residents had been raising issues around school funding and public spaces as well as wider concerns about housing and Brexit.
“Having been involved in many local community projects, from soup kitchens, to elderly befriending, to running a night shelter — I can see the severity of the impact this government is having on people,” she said.
“I wanted to put myself forward to help fight these cuts, help protect our local area and our residents and make our ward the safest, greenest, happiest place it can be.”
Ms Lawton said she had not experienced any antisemitism in the borough, but acknowledged: “It’s clear that other party members have, and that is something that must be urgently addressed.
“The Haringey Labour Party has always been a welcoming place to me and the branch and constituency meetings have been full of good debate.”