OPINION: Barnet and beyond – standing up for Jewish communities nationwide

OPINION: Barnet and beyond – standing up for Jewish communities nationwide

Claudia Mendoza
Claudia Mendoza

Claudia Mendoza, Head of Policy & Research, Jewish Leadership Council 

Claudia Mendoza
Claudia Mendoza

Reflecting on the many factors which contributed to the relocation last Saturday of the proposed neo-Nazi demonstration in Golders Green, one that has been less remarked upon has been the role of the London Borough of Barnet.

The local authority was supportive of the efforts of ‘Golders Green Together’, a campaign set up to bring local communities together to counter the far right demonstration. From the chief executive to local councillors and council services, they played an integral part in the campaign and in the attempts to have the demonstration moved.

hip Council’s key members – the London Jewish Forum and the Community Security Trust – engaged closely with the local authority throughout the campaign. Because of the large number of Jewish residents in areas such as Barnet, Hertsmere, Hackney, Bury and Salford, there is an opportunity for community organisations to engage with these local authorities. But very often, local authorities outside the main areas where Jewish communities are located have implemented policies that have caused great anxiety among our community.

Motions to boycott Israeli goods and services, whether passed by Leicester City Council or proposed by Dudley Council, or the flying of the Palestinian flag above the town hall in Preston are of great concern to the community. In many of these areas, there is little or no understanding of issues of concern to the community, especially given the Jewish community’s under-representation there.

This is why the JLC and some of its members have made a significant move to improve engagement with local authorities. Together with the London Jewish Forum and the Board of Deputies, we have arranged a series of seminars for local councillors.

We have conducted one session in London, one in Manchester and have further sessions planned in London and the Midlands.

In the session in Manchester just two weeks ago, nearly 40 councillors from all over the north-west heard sessions on the structure of the Jewish community and the issues of concern to us, specifically on housing, education, social care, anti-Semitism and Israel.

Many remarked how helpful it was for them to understand more about the Jewish community and the vibrancy of Jewish life in the area. A greater understanding can only help to improve our engagement with local authorities.

This is why our chief executive, Simon Johnson, and I attended the Local Government Association Conference in Harrogate last week. Together with our colleagues from We Believe in Israel and the Board of Deputies, we were there to launch the Local Government Friends of Israel initiative.

We also took the opportunity to meet council leaders and chief executives from all over the country.

Having the chance to meet them one-to-one was the perfect opportunity to open a dialogue about the issues of concern facing the Jewish community and to build relationships that we can develop, an impossible task from our desks in London.

We found that those we met valued the opportunity to talk directly about the concerns of the community and especially to understand how damaging a boycott proposal can be.

All politics is local, and that is why we are supporting local activist groups all over the country, and investing in more activist training.

We will be recruiting six regional fieldworkers who will enable us to engage more closely with local policymakers on issues of concern to the community and who can build relationships locally. They will enable us to better empower existing local community organisations, such as representative councils and activist groups.

This represents an important step to enable us to respond more quickly to concerns that arise outside the main Jewish community areas.

The London Jewish Forum illustrates the advantage of strong local engagement and we hope to emulate that all over the country.

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