A communal row erupted this week after the chief executive of the Jewish Leadership Council dismissed figures suggesting one-in-three British Jews have considered leaving the UK.
The furore stemmed from a video blog by JLC chief Simon Johnson [pictured, right], published last Friday, which lambasted the survey results of a YouGov poll commissioned by Campaign Against Antisemitism.
The CAA claimed around 30 percent of British Jews were considering emigrating because of anti-Semitism fears, but Johnson took to the airwaves to attack the stats as nonsense, saying they were unrepresentative and amounted to scaremongering.
In the video, Johnson slapped the CAA down, saying: “It is beholden on organisations to never sensationalise anti-Semitism.”
After an online backlash, with some accusing his criticism as “shameful,” the video was taken down, but a spokesman said: “The JLC’s position on the report has not changed… The video was removed in the interest of communal relations.”
On Wednesday, CAA head Gideon Falter accused Johnson of a “misconceived attack” and called on him to apologise or quit.
“We did all we could to resolve the matter behind the scenes to avoid embarrassing the JLC and they deleted the video – which had backfired badly – on Monday,” he said. “That should have been the end of the matter.” Instead, he noted, Johnson had since “stood by” the comments.
Falter said the polling was conducted partly by YouGov and partly by the CAA using a methodology modelled on the National Jewish Community Survey, but “rather than attempting to understand the fears of the Jewish community, the JLC’s idea of leadership was to berate the significant minority of British Jews who are so concerned about anti-Semitism as to reconsider their future here”.
Falter continued: “To compound matters Mr Johnson attacked CAA’s unpaid volunteers, claiming that we are out to scare people so that we can get ourselves on television. We only refrained from taking action for the good of the community.”
He added: “The community’s revulsion was evident in the barrage of negative comments about the video on social media. Simon Johnson should have apologised for his petty and personal attack.
“Instead, despite an agreement that neither side would comment, an unnamed JLC source then said that the JLC stood by the video they had deleted,
which is now ammunition for every anti-Semite. At the moment, only anti-Semites welcome their stance. Simon Johnson should apologise or resign.”
However, sociologist Keith Kahn-Harris questioned the CAA’s methodology. He said: “They have not collaborated with experts on the methodology of surveying the UK Jewish community or quoted any research on this area other than their own. They do not address the gap between low immigration rate of Jews from the UK and their claim that one third of UK Jews have considered leaving due to anti-Semitism.”
Levi Shapiro, director of the Jewish Community Council in Stamford Hill, branded the CAA report “far-fetched”, adding: “We don’t think it reflects the views of the strictly-Orthodox community. Not to say anti-Semitism doesn’t exist, but not to the extent where people from our community are considering to leave the UK.”
Top media lawyer and Jewish community campaigner Mark Lewis backed Falter, remarks, saying Johnson’s criticism was “uncalled for,” noting that anti-Israel author Gilad Atzmon had quoted from the video blog. He added: “It is just over three years since the notorious ‘Town Hall Meeting’ which criticised the woeful leadership of the British Jewish community. Mr Johnson was heckled for saying ‘now is not the time to discuss that’. He did not discuss it then and he has not discussed it now. The CAA filled the vacuum created by the established organisations. It leads whereas the JLC leads only in its name.
Jonathan Goldberg QC said: “The sheer smug complacency of Simon Johnson in this matter is appalling.”
He added: “All credit to the unpaid young volunteers of the CAA for calling it how it is unlike the cosy back-slapping club of our Jewish establishment organisations.”