Welcoming the news that the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) will likely enable the Conservatives to form the next government, Board of Deputies’ President Jonathan Arkush apparently casts the DUP as a “friend of the community and Israel”. This features in quotes given to the Jerusalem Post once again highlighting the problem of antisemitism in the Labour Party.
I had hoped the elected representative of the Jewish community might acknowledge in his public comments that he represents a diverse community, rather than exclusively giving voice to the more conservative concerns – albeit held by the majority – of those he speaks for.
I would have expected that in a piece seeking to draw attention to a prejudice within some corners of one faction of a party he has lost no love for; the President of the Board of Deputies would at the very least qualify his embrace of a party whose platform is riddled with reactionary views on abortion, LGBT rights and the environment.
Even tactically, I would think an astute advocate against prejudice as Mr Arkush could see how this hypocritical blind spot to homophobia undermines the community’s efforts to build bridges with all minorities and marginalised groups in the shared fight against racism, prejudice and extremism.
Mr Arkush and the Board of Deputies have commendably been among the most forthright in highlighting Jeremy Corbyn’s record of having “friends” with extreme views and blood on their hands. How can we expect sympathy for our unease with Corbyn when the “cross-communal voice of the UK’s Jewish community” displays careless disregard for the dismay many feel at the prospect of homophobic politicians, with questionable links to paramilitary groups, exerting huge influence on our government? How should LGBT Jews – also part of the community the Board represents – feel when this party (who maintain Northern Ireland being the only part of the UK denying equal marriage and an exemption to allow discrimination against LGBT people) is greeted with such enthusiasm?
I wish this was a one-off. Yet Matthew Offord is one of the MPs who retained his seat due in part, according to Mr Arkush’s analysis, to elements of the Jewish community rejecting Corbyn as he “is not a Labour Party leader who is trusted by the Jewish community”. Matthew Offord was chosen to be the first Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on British Jews, with support from the Board. At the time I shared privately with colleagues I still respect at the Board that as a gay Jewish man I was troubled that our communal representative body could endorse a man who has repeatedly alienated and insulted LGBT people, most infamously when framing the campaign for equal civil marriage as an “attack on religion” and suggesting allowing equal marriage could lead to legalising polygamy.
I know it can be hard to find friends beyond our community who support Israel. Yet if we can’t demand a higher threshold than that for those we choose as our friends, we will further alienate younger, more progressive or LGBT members of our own community. We’ll also find it even harder to convince those beyond our community we are serious in the fight against all forms of prejudice.
Just weeks ago I stood under a Chuppah to marry my Jewish husband, in a ceremony that friends and family described as wonderfully inclusive and proudly Jewish. For almost twenty years I’ve worked with young people and students in our community. I sincerely hope that more senior, established and conservative parts of our community and communal leadership give greater thought to how their public words and actions demonstrate the broad, diverse and inclusive community we seek to build. Just as we expect others to take responsibility for their “friends”, we need to be very careful about choosing ours.
- This blog was written in a personal capacity.