The first ever Jewish Community Seminar for local councillors drew over forty councillors to the Board of Deputies’ offices in Bloomsbury Square for a five hour introduction to our community’s most pressing issues.
The Board of Deputies, the London Jewish Forum, and the Jewish Leadership Council co-convened the event, which drew in around 20 expert panellists from across the Jewish community. Areas that were discussed were Israel, antisemitism, social care, housing, planning, education and the Jewish media.
After hearing about the demography of the London Jewish community from Dr Jonathan Boyd of the Institute of Jewish Policy Research, delegates had a chance to discuss the most pressing issues with a panel including Board President Vivian Wineman, JLC CEO Simon Johnson and LJF Chair Adrian Cohen. The councillors then separated in to break-out sessions to discuss key issues in detail.
Councillors representing the Conservatives, Labour, the Liberal Democrats and UKIP attended from a total of 20 of London’s boroughs, ranging from Jewish strongholds in Barnet, Hackney, Haringey, Redbridge and Harrow, to areas with smaller Jewish populations like Merton, Lambeth and Waltham Forest.
Councillors were alarmed about the rise in antisemitic incidents over the summer and were interested in the fine line between anti-Israel and antisemitic rhetoric and behaviour. One councillor with a portfolio for crime confided that she did not think enough had been done to prosecute antisemitic incidents in her borough and pledged to raise the issue with the Borough Commander.
A number of councillors were very keen to hear about how they could present Israel’s case to council colleagues and their ward residents, including how to counter divisive boycotts and promote peace projects instead.
In the session on social care, one councillor expressed gratitude to the organisers for signposting who to contact when her residents enquired about Jewish social care providers. She had found it difficult to get this information from her local synagogue and now felt more empowered to help.
Over the course of the day, councillors were able to hear expert presentations from the CST, Holocaust Memorial Day, We Believe in Israel, UK Lawyers for Israel, Mitzvah Day, Norwood, Agudas Israel, Jewish Community Housing Association, and a range of Jewish papers. Chaya Spitz from Interlink in Stamford Hill and community leader Rabbi Avrohom Pinter helped to create a much better understanding of the strictly orthodox community’s needs, including on social care and schools.
Board President, Vivian Wineman said: “At a time of increased anti-Israel and antisemitic activity, it was extremely important to bring together local politicians and communal organisations and help them to better understand each others’ needs. Throughout the day, there was a very strong sense of turning strangers into friends. This first event was a huge success and we will now be looking at repeating it in in other cities around the UK.”
LJF Chair, Adrian Cohen said: “The seminar provided a timely opportunity to bring together politicians and communal leaders and executives, so that they could gain a better understanding of the interaction between the community and local government, especially given the current environment with sometimes acute local hostility to the community’s interests. We look forward to building on these relationships, which have now been forged in nearly two-thirds of London’s boroughs.”
JLC CEO Simon Johnson said: “With Israel delegitimisation campaigns often targeted at councillors, this event is particularly timely. We hope to continue to build resilience to activities which target Israel and Jews. This was a fantastic opportunity to discuss our community’s infrastructure and offer our collective resources to the councillors, who seemed very appreciative.”