Response to today’s article in the JC

The article by Lee Harpin in today’s Jewish Chronicle – “Board of Deputies nearly backed Islamophobia definition ‘decisively influenced’ by controversial group” – is concocted from a mixture of innuendo, half-truths, and outright falsehoods.

Innuendo: “Board of Deputies nearly backed Islamophobia definition ‘decisively influenced’ by controversial group”

In line with other communal bodies including the Jewish Leadership Council  and the Community Security Trust (CST), we discussed various options including supporting a definition, or continuing to monitor developments around this issue. We haven’t yet given our support to any definition. We are aware that there are a number of definitions under discussion in the Muslim community, including the APPG’s, Tell Mama’s, and the Runnymede Trust’s, and we felt it wasn’t the right time for us to endorse any of them.

Half-truth: “Board staff attended a series of meetings with leading advocates of the definition — including Baroness Warsi, Labour’s Wes Streeting, and Muhbeen Hussain”

This is inaccurate. No Board of Deputies staff members have met Baroness Warsi. After checking with the CST, junior Board staff did have one introductory meeting with Muhbeen Hussain – also a junior staff member of the APPG on British Muslims – as one of many Muslim stakeholders with who we maintain contact.

Wes Streeting MP is Co-Chair of the APPG on British Jews, and a friend of the Jewish community, it is not at all strange that staff and Honorary Officers would meet him on a regular basis.

Outright falsehood:- “were it not for a last-minute intervention by leading moderate British Muslims and concerns raised by the Community Security Trust, the Board was ready as late as November 26 to offer its support to the proposed Islamophobia definition.”

This is simply made up. There was no “last-minute intervention” by moderate British Muslims, nor the Community Security Trust. The Board of Deputies followed its own decision making process with full due diligence – including asking other stakeholders for their views – and we came to our own decision on the matter, just as other Jewish communal bodies did at the same time.

Outright falsehood: “According to one source, he [Wes Streeting MP] is said to have ‘literally begged’ them to back the definition.”

This never happened.

 Innuendo:– “Board President Marie van der Zyl met with Baroness Warsi — whose close links to Mend have been revealed by the JC — at the House of Lords.”

It is bizarre that the JC would resurrect this old story, which was already decisively debunked. As Marie wrote at the time: “my team and I were surprised to read in last week’s paper that I had met Baroness Warsi with the purpose of beginning a rapprochement with a notorious organisation called MEND – Muslim Engagement and Development. Unusually, the JC seems to have used rather more imagination than fact in its coverage of this meeting… We discussed many topics on which we agreed, including combating the twin evils of antisemitism and anti-Muslim hate, which I have made a priority for my presidency. But I also took the opportunity to tell the Baroness unequivocally that the Board of Deputies would not work with MEND, as I knew that she had some relationship with them in the past. MEND is bad news.”

Indeed the Board of Deputies is unequivocal that no parliamentarian should ever give MEND the appearance of legitimacy, by appearing at MEND events or participating in their projects. Repeated suggestions to the contrary, by the JC, are mere fantasy.

As regards the definition of islamophobia, we will continue to follow the conversation with interest as an ally of the Muslim community against the ugly scourge of anti-Muslim hatred.


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