A war of words has broken out over a meeting held by 12 members of the Jewish community in Prestwich, north Manchester — with the former leader of the English Defence League, Tommy Robinson, as their special guest.
The secretive event at which Robinson — real name Stephen Yaxley-Lennon — is believed to have spoken about his extreme views on Islam — is understood to have taken place last Wednesday night in a city centre hotel.
But attempts to speak to the organisers of the event were stonewalled this week after Robinson himself boasted about the meeting on social media, drawing immediate condemnation by the Board of Deputies and the Jewish Labour Movement.
He announced on his Twitter account that he had given a talk “to the Manchester Jewish community”, and thanked his audience for £400 raised for the Amelia-Mae Foundation, a charity which supports people with neuroblastoma.
The Board’s vice-president, Marie van der Zyl, said: “Tommy Robinson’s record of anti-Muslim provocation means that he could never be a partner of a respectable or mainstream Jewish organisation. Our community should not tolerate any form of hatred.”
Anthony Dennison, of the North West Friends of Israel, said he had been told about the meeting but had refused to attend, as he did not share the ideas about Islam, but believed there should be co-operation with members of the Muslim community.
Jeremy Newmark, chair of the Jewish Labour Movement, said: “There can be no space in our community for the politics of extremism and hate. British Jews stood firmly against the British Union of Fascists, the National Front and the BNP.
“We are warning them not to be taken in by the likes of Tommy Robinson, who is part of that same legacy of hate. We call upon the Board of Deputies and Jewish Leadership Council to take political and educational steps to distance our community from Robinson and his associates … No ifs, no buts, Tommy Robinson is an enemy of our community.”
Robinson, a former member of the far-right British Nationalist Party, has sought in recent years to ingratiate himself with the Jewish community, travelling to Israel and declaring himself a Zionist. English Defence League demonstrations frequently feature Israeli flags.
On Tuesday Robinson wrote on Twitter: “People actually think I’m a Jew. I’ve gone full 360 [degrees] over last eight years. From people thinking I hate Jews to people thinking I am a Jew.”