Jack Mendel
Online Editor at Jewish News

The Markaz row was never about parking

The Hippodrome building in Golders Green
The Hippodrome building in Golders Green

The predictable disparity in outrage between a Muslim and Christian centre taking over the Golders Green Hippodrome, shows it was broadly never about parking, pollution, or noise – but intolerance.

The news that Justin Bieber’s old ‘megachurch’ will be coming to the heart of Jewish north London has been received with a mere whimper.

There’s been no petitions, no Facebook groups set up to organise opposition, or vocal concerns about its impact on ‘religious tensions’.

This comes after a vicious four-year campaign of anger, objections and failures on the part of the Barnet Council to facilitate a regulation application.

The campaign of objections from locals, including many in the Jewish community, led to lawyers for the Markaz claiming it had been subject to “unlawful religious discrimination”.

But it could have been so different.

The Markaz, a community comprised largely of Iraqi Shia refugees who fled Saddam Hussein, and which is anti-Iranian regime, bought the Hippodrome and moved into it in 2017.

From the get-go, it did a lot to show it was a friend and ally of the community in Barnet, and sometimes this got it into hot water.

It hosted multiple interfaith blood donations, which won it a Mitzvah Day award in 2018. It also held interfaith vaccination events during the pandemic.

Interfaith leaders at the Markaz El Tathgheef El Eslami Islamic centre in Golders Green, promoting vaccinations (Jewish News)

It was also bullied into cancelling an exhibition, supported by Yad Vashem, on Muslim heroes of the Holocaust, after Islamists found out it was ‘collaborating’ with ‘Zionists’.

The in-part confected outrage began in November 2019.

A local group hired the services of a self-proclaimed “Mosquebuster”, lawyer Gavin Boby, to spearhead the bid to oppose the Markaz.

In response to the council issuing an enforcement notice over planning, the Markaz applied to change the use of the building, leading to a flood of complaints.

Rabbi Natan Levy gives blood at Golders Green’s Islamic centre (2019)

Objectors claimed the change “would see significant intensification of the use of the Hippodrome with up to 3,000 attendees between the hours of 8.00am and 11.30pm”.

The Markaz said: “The highest ever attendance is capped at 1,400 people maximum which occurs very rarely and is well below the Hippodrome’s capacity.”

Concerns were continually raised about the supposed impact on parking, traffic in the local area, and noise, based on this claim it would have double the amount of people it actually would have been.

In July of this year, objections to the application were put forward during a Barnet agenda meeting, and it got ugly.

The Markaz would create a “tremendous increase of noise, congestion and lack of parking” which would “change the nature” of the area.

Its approval would be a “contravention of the Human Rights Act” and would have a potential effect on “religious tension”.  I wonder what this person means.

One objector claimed it would lead to “insecurity to the local Jewish community”, calling it a “grave error to place a Muslim centre of worship here”, and that there would be “an increase in antisemitic abuse”.

All the evidence suggests the Markaz community was not a threat to the Jewish community.

Yet metaphorical barricades were put up to stop a Muslim community from having this building.

It would not have led to an increase in tension or antisemitism.

The only increase in tension came from those who opposed it.

This campaign led to lawyers for the Markaz saying that “at every turn ..the council has obfuscated, delayed the process and made demands of the Markaz that it did not make of the previous owners”.

It is “inconceivable.. such demands would have been made had the application been made by a community of a different faith….

“The Markaz has been treated differently because it is a Muslim institution and one which has, sadly, been on the receiving end of unprecedented levels of objection.”

Well, here we are.

The proof is in the pudding:

A community of a different faith (who by the way are not squeaky clean) have bought it, and want to plant an evangelical church in the heart of Golders Green.

Where is the outrage?

Where are the unreasonable demands?

Where is the environmental group headed by a ‘churchbuster’ lawyer?

The reality is, had this been a Jewish centre wishing to move into an area with a high Muslim population – and it received this level of hostility – I think we know what most Jews would call it.

About the Author
Jack Mendel is Online Editor at Jewish News UK
Related Topics
Related Posts