THE BLOG

Last Jewish Ken Supporter Standing?

23/03/2012 13:21 | Updated 23 May 2012

For some years now, I have been the least popular person in my (orthodox) synagogue. There are, of course, many reasons for this however there is one simple one - I am the only member who is willing to vote for Ken and to say so in public.

This raises quite a few eyebrows - it has been a common assumption amongst the orthodox anglo-Jewish community that Ken does not support us for some years now, with many citing for example his treatment of Oliver Finegold and his refusal to apologise or even acknowledge that comparing a Jewish reporter to a Nazi concentration camp guard could be offensive.

Ken's trenchant views on Israel/Palestine haven't helped, nor has what has been seen as his willingness to support 'radical' Islamic leaders, most famous example being his bringing Sheikh Al Qaradawi to London.

I have been a firm Ken supporter, notwithstanding. Like Ed Miliband I believed that Ken "doesn't have a prejudiced bone in his body", but unlike him I can't agree that he is "attracting people from all faiths, all backgrounds, all religions to his campaign."

Let's look at the standing charges which have estranged Ken from the Jewish community. With regard to his attack on the Evening Standard reporter, I would have preferred Ken to at least get the insult right (I suspect he meant to call the reporter a Kapo) but that is Ken - outspoken and often a bit random.

So what about Sheikh Al Qaradawi and relationships between the disparate communities in London? I supported Ken in bringing Al Qaradawi to London despite the strong challenge by Peter Tatchell, who I also respect. Ken understood that we had to reach out to moderate voices in the Muslim community in London to help marginalise the extremists. When we discuss 'moderate voices' this means moderate within their context - they often don't sound moderate within Western discourse. Al Qaradawi is a 'conservative moderate' and an important mainstream voice within Islam who has condemned Al Qaida and needs to be understood in his context, just as Sephardi Chief Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, who has also expressed immoderate views needs to be understood in his.

The Jewish community we need to appreciate that Judaism and Islam have much in common. We need to reach out to moderates in the Muslim community to ensure that they appreciate this. And we should hope that the Mayor of London would support us. Up to this week, I had no doubt that Ken would understand the issues and help achieve this.

So what has changed? Well, I haven't but Ken seems to. He agreed to a meeting with Jewish Labour supporters who wanted him to re-connect with Jewish voters in advance of the mayoral election - and it was a disaster according to almost everyone's version of events apart, of course, from Ken's.

What was to Ken a "very nice meal together" was to almost all of the attendees a very disturbing conversation. When a private letter was leaked, not by the attendees, Ken dismissed it as "a bit of electioneering from people who aren't terribly pkeen to see a Labour mayor". The fact that the people he met are, like me, long standing supporters of both him and the Labour party doesn't stop him from turning to the attack rather than trying to address the damage.

Instead of re-connecting he has driven the wedge even further. He denies attacking rich Jews though his widely reported "why don't you go back home" comments to the Reuben brothers shows he has a track record. He doesn't seem to appreciate that the Jewish community is by and large liberal in outlook and should be well disposed towards a left leaning Mayor.

His campaign people have rallied around him but they seem nervous - claiming that details of the meeting can't be discussed. Now it is in the open, it can and should be discussed and Ken should give an account himself. But he doesn't, he simply attacks, as do many of his supporters.

And one shouldn't ever underestimate the ability of people on the left to write nonsense about any subject - the comments on the Liberal Conspiracy blog in defence of Ken well demonstrate this.

Ken seems not to worry about alienating Jewish voters, whatever his precise words were. And more worryingly, he seems to want to define my identity rather than allow me to define it - the attendees state that "Ken determines Jews as a religious group but does not accept Jews as an ethnicity and a people, and did not respond on this other than to say as an atheist he found this hard to comprehend."

This hasn't been denied by his camp and I believe is actually more offensive than anything else that has been said about the meeting, because of the importance of Jewish self-identification and ethnicity.

I want to give Ken the benefit of the doubt and be able to vote for him on 3 May. However I am increasingly uncomfortable. It isn't just the Jewish community. Ken's recent comments about the Tory party being "riddled by gays". Led to his being accused of homophobia by his rivals. Importantly though, it also demonstrate that he can re-build bridges, as shown by Peter Tatchell's recent defence of Ken.

So I would appeal to the man himself. Ken please help me out and genuinely reach out to Jewish Londoners who want to support you. I would rather vote for you and a progressive future for London than become popular in my synagogue by no longer being able to defend you.

However, I don't want platitudes or inept spin from your team. I don't want to see the Labour party just close ranks around you and pretend everything is ok. It isn't okay - it is broken and it needs to be fixed by you talking some sense about the London Jewish community for once. Try to work out who we really are if you want to be our Mayor.

This has been a troubling week for the Jewish community with the tragic and shocking events in Toulouse and Montauban. The fact that these events were carried out by someone who claimed allegiance to Al Qaida has already been exploited by the far right Marine Le Pen to call for a "war on Islamic fundamentalism" and raise tensions between communities.

You need to demonstrate that you can still address these tensions. You said yesterday "Every year I was mayor, anti-Semitic attacks declined" - you have to be able to persuade the Jewish community that you can still achieve this. And you need to address rising Islamophobia. You need to show you understand that anti-Semitism and Islamophobia are two sides of the same coin.

You have persuaded many of them you are part of the problem not part of the solution. This is a travesty and needs to be resolved by some clear leadership from you.

And as someone who wants to see you win, I'd appeal to you - make it easier for all your many supporters in London by being more measured with your words.

I feel I have met you more than half way - the next steps are up to you.