abcHampstead and Kilburn was the most closely fought seat at the last general election, with just 42 votes between Labour and the Conservatives.

With incumbent Glenda Jackson stepping down, it could be even tighter this time. While just 6.5 percent of the constituency is Jewish there are religious and cultural sites, including JW3, and big synagogues such as at St John’s Wood.

Marc Shoffman chats to the key contenders...

10 Hampstead

Hampstead

 

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10 Siddiq-300x186Tulip Siddiq, hoping to take over from incumbent MP Glenda Jackson, has already made an impression on the Jewish community after chairing the Camden Faith Forum as a councillor, speaking at Limmud, cooking at JW3 and supporting Mitzvah Day.

She was born in the UK but was raised in Bangladesh before moving to London. Politics is in her blood – her grandfather, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, was the first president of Bangladesh.

One of her biggest concerns in the constituency is the targeting of minority groups. “I am profoundly concerned that individuals, from schoolchildren to business owners and pensioners, are feeling less safe in our area,” she says. “While I applaud the individual spirit, I worry about having to use volunteers to provide extra security at school gates or events, including some I have participated in. “It is an unacceptable failing prompted in no small part by the cutting of some 4,000 uniformed police across London since mid-2010.”

She believes public funds should be available to improve security at higher-risk community locations and says she would, if elected, support a community cohesion fund from the Government to provide security for Jewish institutions.

Siddiq says the main concern she hears from Jewish constituents is tackling the root causes of community-motivated violence, adding: “Those I speak to want recognition, support and security for their own faith and cultural community, but they are also concerned about falling investment in public services and worsening social inequality.

“They do not want to live in a country of food banks, where the rich segregate themselves from society’s reality through high walls, private healthcare and private schools. Labour’s insight is to realise these are linked. A society that demonstrably fails the vulnerable and fails to support those on low incomes creates an environment in which violent extremism can thrive – and ultimately costs our prosperity dearly.”

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Screen Shot 2015-04-02 at 14.01.26A Jewish candidate, Simon Marcus had his barmitzvah at the New London Synagogue in this constituency and said it would be a privilege to be the local MP.

He still holds on to lessons from the Torah in his political work, saying: “I was taught to leave the world a better place than I found it. My father always taught me what Hillel said: ‘If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?’”

This is his second attempt at winning a seat. He came third in 2010 in Barking, but was credited with pushing the British National Party down the rankings to fourth, with 328 votes.

Standing up to prejudice is in his blood. His grandparents grew up in the East End and were communists who fought Oswald Mosley. Marcus says: “They taught me about how they emerged from poverty, about the values that lead to success, and this heavily influenced me.”

He adds: “I helped beat the BNP by going to where BNP voters were and explaining there was a better way and leading them away from extremism. “If you want to change lives, you need the energy and conviction to find those who are vulnerable, whoever they are, show them you care and give them better choices to make. It is tough and you have to get your hands dirty, but it is the only way.”

But he warns there is still much extremism to fight. “I can scarcely believe that, in 2015, Jews are leaving France and some are thinking about leaving the UK because of a rise in anti-Semitism.

“As an MP, I would use my experience of campaigning against the BNP to continue the fight against this resurgence of religious and racial hatred, whether it comes from fascism or radical Islamism.”

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Maajid Nawaz is probably the highest-profile of this constituency’s candidates, best known for being co-founder of anti-extremist think tank Quilliam.

He has an interesting backstory, having been a member of Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir. This led to him being imprisoned in 2001 when visiting Egypt, where the group is banned. He was jailed for six years but, after being released, he turned his life around to focus on tackling terrorism. He says all this experience should be seen as a positive for the Jewish community.

Nawaz explains: “There is an abundance of imams who will speak out against extremism, but is there an abundance of people in the Muslim community whose passion it is to speak out against anti-Semitism?”

If he gets a seat, Nawaz says he would be the first Bush-era former political prisoner to be elected, adding: “It would demonstrate the power of democracy to revive itself and goes against the propaganda of Muslim extremists by showing democracy can work.”

Nawaz has been vocal in his support for the community, speaking at the anti-Semitism rally in London last year and writing for Jewish News during the Israel-Gaza conflict. It is rare to hear a Muslim so openly criticise Hamas, but he said at the time: “The unfashionable truth is that Hamas is a terrorist organisation that plays politics with Gazan blood for ideological reasons, and in doing so aids the Israeli extreme-right narrative.” And he still stands by that, adding: “I know the mindset of the community. What I bring is a counter-narrative.”

He has visited Israel and the West Bank and met with all sides of the conflict. He says: “Articulating a pro-Palestinian case necessitates being able to say Hamas needs to be sidelined. There needs to be a two-state solution.

Both sides need the reassurance of security but the biggest obstacle is Hamas terrorism.”

While he has shown his commitment to standing up to extremism, his own party has had its fair share of criticism over controversial views.

Liberal Democrat figures such as Jenny Tonge and David Ward have made high-profile statements in recent years against Israel.

He says these are “old Lib-Dem voices”, adding: “There is a groundswell of new voices who understand the context of the world. Liberal Democrats are a vote for future generations.”