The Board of Deputies has clarified that its president Marie van der Zyl was talking “generically” when she spoke of approaching “genocide” in relation to a question about Labour and antisemitism on Sunday.
The comments were reported after an event featuring local councillors, the Board, the Jewish Leadership Council and the London Jewish Forum, held at ORT House Conference Centre, following a talk by Dr Martin Stern, a Holocaust survivor.
Although Van Der Zyl was responding to a question about antisemitism in the UK, discussion had included the Pittsburgh attack, and the Board said on Monday she had been speaking more generally. Her remarks came during a panel discussion featuring Claudia Mendoza, JLC, Philip Rosenberg, the Board, Adrian Cohen, London Jewish Forum, and former MP Lee Scott.
“The President was saying that genocide does not begin overnight, but with hate speech and then violent acts,” a spokesman said.
“That is why we must take a robust stance against all kinds of antisemitism, anti-Muslim hatred or prejudice of any kind, whether in person or online. This is borne out by the horrifying events in Pittsburgh, when someone ranting online, but led to the worst antisemitic attack in US history.”
One councillor present, who did not wish to be identified, confirmed that she had said “you don’t wake up to genocide” and did not agree that this had been a warning of genocide in the UK, but others were less sure, as private concerns were raised.
One attendee said: “The reference to genocide came in an answer to one Cllr’s question about labour and antisemitism. Marie indicated that the community’s history meant it is well aware of the warning signs of genocide. the choice of wording raised several eyebrows.”
The event had earlier heard from Dr Martin Stern, a Holocaust survivor.