Thursday, February 07, 2013

scratch the surface and see what you find

A few weeks ago the United Kingdom marked Holocaust Memorial Day . Since the introduction of this commemoration in 2001 ( due in part to the efforts of Andrew Dismore)  Barnet Council has been prominent in ensuring a suitable civic event is held. We have progressed from a cold tent in Hendon Park to the more comfortable surroundings of Middlesex University and have ensured schools participation not least in the campaign supporting the planting of snowdrops in remembrance of the children murdered during the Shoah.

The Barnet Civic event this year took place despite thick snow on the ground and attracted a reasonable attendance including all three of the Borough's Members of Parliament, the GLA Member , the Borough Police Commander and a sizeable phalanx of Councillors . The responsibility for arranging the event lies with the Cabinet Member for Community Safety and Community Engagement ( a title dreamt up by Mike Freer when Leader of the Council to keep me busy ) and now held by Councillor Longstaff who duly introduced ( very briefly ) the event . However as Councillor Longstaff spoke I could not help thinking of a video that I had watched on You tube a few days before of that same Councillor's appearance at a recent meeting of the Eastern Area Planning Committee when the subject of an "Eruv" to cover the Chipping Barnet area was on the agenda .

Applications for Eruvs have always caused a flutter of controversy ever since Barnet Council dealt with the first one covering parts of Finchley/ Golders Green/Hampstead Garden Suburb  20 years ago. However a long and through Public Enquiry at the time  decided there were no planning grounds to reject applications for Eruvs and as Council Planning Committees can only by law consider planning matters all subsequent applications have been allowed .

However this did not stop Councillor Longstaff appearing before the Committee to argue against the Barnet Eruv not least by suggesting it would encourage Jews to move into the area !!!!!

The man in charge of Holocaust commemoration in Barnet is worried about Jews moving into the Area ??????

The fact that existing  Erus have made no difference to house prices , population mix or anything else but have made the life of some observant Jews with young children or elderly relatives easier seems to have escaped him . Thousands of Barnet residents pass through Eruvs everyday of their lives and have no idea they are doing so . Councillor Longstaff's objection that residents did not want to see religious symbols outside their windows was dismissed by Councillor Joanna Tambourides who asked him if this meant he objected to public Christmas Trees ?

However Councillor Longstaff is not alone in attitude to the Jewish Community . The Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament for Bradford East David Ward managed to cause uproar with his comments about Holocaust Memorial Day and "The Jews" inflicting "atrocities " on the Palestinians. At least he apologised unlike the long term insulter of Israel Baroness Tonge who quite rightly lost the Lib Dem Whip over one of her ignorant outbursts . The cartoon by Gerald Scarfe in "The Sunday Times" published on Holocaust Memorial Day was rightly condemned by Rupert Murdoch , a long time supporter of Israel and the Jewish Community .

Here in Barnet, despite or perhaps because of our substantial Jewish population there are still far to many examples  of nice middle class" respectable" people seeming  to think there is nothing wrong with making anti Semitic remarks and behaving as if they were members of Finchley Golf Club in the early 1960s . A local blogger who thinks there is nothing wrong with objecting to the Sternberg Centre Planning application on the grounds "these people are ruining Finchley "; Activists on picket lines outside meetings of the North London Waste Authority oozing with anti -semitism  as they attempt to intimidate Politicians deciding on the awarding of a waste contract objecting to a multinational doing business in Israel; or objectors to a Planning application for a Mill Hill Jewish School inventing reasons why it should not proceed when everyone knew what their real agenda was ! Oh and quite why has there been such a concerted campaign against the proposed redevelopment of the Fallowcourt Avenue Synagogue ?

I spoke at the Planning Committee that agreed the application for an Eruv for the Woodside Park/ North Finchley/ Totteridge Area and before I did so I read through the two lever arch files of objections that had been received . After 20 minutes or so I could take no more. Whilst some residents had restricted themselves to objecting on what they considered planning grounds there was letter after e mail ( one of 28 pages !) containing vile anti - Semitic abuse some of which would have made Oswald Mosley blush . It made me feel physically ill .

And before the usual suspects claim anti Zionism  is not the same as being anti Semitic , that may be the case at Islington Dinner Parties but not in my book .

I look forward to the day when those who fail to understand or apperciate the Jewish Community restrict their comments to the Golf Club Bar


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