The Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) chair’s decision to stand for Parliament against one of the community’s greatest friends has provoked applause but also anger.
Jeremy Newmark will contest the Finchley and Golders Green seat held by Mike Freer, who won a second term with a majority of more than 5,800 two years ago, while JLM vice-chair Mike Katz will aim to overturn Matthew Offord’s 3,700 majority in Hendon. Both candidates have been at the forefront of tackling cases of anti-Semitism in the party.
While some political opponents condemned the pair for standing at all on a Labour ticket in the wake of the anti-Semitism crisis, communal sources indicated there was particular “anger” that someone so inextricably linked to JLM was challenging one of the most vocal supporters of the community in Parliament, when JLM’s prime function has been to advocate within the party. There would not be such concern if the former Jewish Leadership Council chief executive fought a seat elsewhere, they argued.
But Labour peer Lord Mendelsohn defended his decision to stand, particularly with JLM being an official affiliate of the party. “I’m very encouraged these constituency parties have the good sense to select someone so closely associated with supporting Israel and fighting anti-Semitism. It’s an important signal about how important the party sees its relationship with the community and I hope this will be an increasing part of its future,” he said. Insisting it is not uncommon for more than one person with a strong record of support contests a seat with a large Jewish population, he added: “After the election I hope we can feel confident that Finchley and Golders Green will be represented by someone who is a good friend.”
Clive Sheldon QC, a long-time Labour supporter who represented the party against Ken Livingstone at his recent disciplinary hearing, insisted the fact Freer is a good friend to the community “does not mean he should not face proper opposition. Whilst a number of lifelong Jewish voters are not prepared to support the Labour Party under the current leadership, there are others who will vote for Labour if the right candidate is put forward. For many, Jeremy Newmark is that candidate. He is committed to ensuring that Labour remains a place where mainstream Jews can feel comfortable”.
But former Conservative candidate Jeremy Brier condemned the pair’s decision to stand as “an astonishing act of communal self-harm”, adding: “It is very sad that prominent Jewish activists are fighting great friends of the community like Mike Freer and Matthew Offord and – whether they like it or not – fighting to hand Corbyn and McDonnell power.
While Freer opposed Britain leaving the European Union, Offord supported the Brexit campaign. Both Labour candidates immediately said they would oppose what Katz described as a “hard right” deal.
Newmark said: “I am proud to be Labour’s candidate in Finchley and Golders Green for June’s General Election. I will fight against a reckless extreme Tory Brexit and I will work tirelessly to let local people know that this election is a choice between a Labour Party that will stand up for local people or a Conservative Party that only looks after the privileged few.”
Katz, who works in public policy and communications, said: “To Jews who are Labour-leaning, but are struggling with the idea of voting Labour now, I say that we don’t solve this problem by running – in the words we said at Cable Street: we stay, we stand, we fight. I’m determined to win this fight, and I’ll be even better placed to do that as a Labour MP.”
Jewish News and the London Jewish Forum are set to host hustings for both constituencies this month, which will cover issues of specific interest to the community, including faith schools, anti-Semitism and the Middle East, as well as those of national concern such as Brexit, the NHS and the economy.