Countdown to Election Day: Meet the candidates – Finchley and Golders Green

Countdown to Election Day: Meet the candidates – Finchley and Golders Green

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Between now and election day, Jewish News will be speaking to candidates in constituencies with the largest Jewish communities, who are hoping to win your vote.

This week, we focus on Finchley and Golders Green.

From kosher restaurants and late-night bagel bakeries to synagogues and supermarkets, Finchley and Golders Green is a cultural and religious focal point for London’s Jews.

The seat has the highest proportion of Jewish residents in the country, with 7,661 Jews, or 37 percent of residents, according to the 2011 census.

Here, Marc Shoffman speaks to the constituency’s three main party candidates

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Mike Freer
Incumbent MP, Mike Freer of the Conservatives

The incumbent Conservative MP won the seat with 46 percent of the vote in 2010. The former Barnet councillor brought the semi-marginal Tory seat back to the party by beating Labour’s Rudi Viz.

Since arriving in Parliament, Freer has been a strong supporter of the community. He has been active in raising issues regarding community security, shechita and Jewish education and is vice president of the All-Party Parliamentary Group against AntiSemitism and vice chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on British Jews.

Freer took a particularly strong stand when he resigned as a parliamentary aide at the time of the controversial vote over Palestinian statehood last year. He says he has no regrets over this decision: “When one’s own personal views align with constituents’ views and government policy – the decision isn’t difficult. “Having visited Israel many times, most recently to accompany the Prime Minister, I understand the security situation. “When I talked to residents of Sderot and visited a nursery that had to make missile shelters look like play equipment, I ‘got it’. “So when people argue with me about Israel’s right to defend itself, I ask: ‘if rockets were being fired on Golders Green from High Barnet, what would you expect our Prime Minister to do?’”

So what can the Jewish community expect from potentially another five years of Tory rule?

“More of the same,” Freer explains, “a strong Prime Minister who, as well as putting the British economy back on its feet, has defended the Jewish community.

A Prime Minister and a Government that is adamant that anti-Semitism must not take hold and that includes hate preachers being stopped from preaching at our universities or being deported. “A Prime Minister who supports Jewish schools and is committed to doing all he can to ensure the community is safe, to ensuring that Jewish religious needs, such as shechita, are protected. David Cameron is a Prime Minister who knows what it is like to have to send our armed forces into conflict. So he understands the need for Israel to defend itself.”

He is going against two Jewish candidates for the seat, but insists being a non-Jew doesn’t hold him back in supporting the community, and admits he has received threats as a result. Freer explains: “I don’t commit to do things I don’t believe in, even if this puts me at risk. I’ve been subject to two ‘incidents’ by the radical group Muslims Against Crusades, I’ve had to install extra security measures. If that’s the price of standing up for my constituents and what I believe in, so be it.”


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Sarah Sackman
Labour’s Sarah Sackman

Parliament is often criticised for being male dominated with career politicians having little knowledge of the real world. This 30-year-old female barrister is part of a sea change of vibrant candidates who could freshen up Westminster.

She brings the professional experience of working in law as well as a strong Jewish background, growing up attending Norrice Lea, meeting her husband at Limmud and being president of the Cambridge Jewish Society. She says she would bring Jewish values of tzedakah and tikkun olam to the role, explaining: “The lessons from Pirkeh Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) my grandparents taught me are a source of inspiration: ‘If I am not for myself, who will be for me. But if I am only for myself then what am I?’

“These words encapsulate the Jewish values of self-reliance and collective responsibility, which have influenced my politics.” Sackman says a House of Commons full of “professional politicians” serves no-one’s interest, adding: “In my own case, my experience as a public law barrister in acting in cases as varied as defending the closure of libraries to representing social tenants protecting their homes gives me first-hand knowledge of the sorts of issues that concern the voters of Finchley and Golders Green.”

She already demonstrated her principled stance last summer when she spoke out against the Labour-backed motion on Palestinian statehood. She says: “Had I been an MP at the time, I would not have supported the motion. As I said publicly at the time, although I am in favour of a two-state solution, I do not believe that a unilateral resolution promoting Palestinian statehood at this time helps. Peace will be secured by dialogue and bilateral engagement between the Israeli Government and the Palestinians’ representatives.”

But she insists it is unfair to say Jewish voters cannot trust Ed Miliband just because of his response to the Gaza conflict. Sackman, a committed Zionist, says: “Being a friend of Israel does not mean you have to endorse every action taken by the Israeli government of the day. “As we know from the upcoming Israeli elections – both within Israel and within the Jewish community in Britain – there are a range of opinions on the actions of the current Israeli leadership. I will support Israel as well as standing up against anti-Semitism and other forms of hate crime in this country.”

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Another Jewish candidate, Jonathan Davies is treasurer of Golders Green Synagogue and vice chairman of Liberal Democrats Friends of Israel, as well as being a member of the Board of Deputies.

jonathan Davies
Jonathan Davies of the Liberal Democrats

The Liberal Democrats have had a tetchy relationship with the Jewish community in recent times, with the latest tensions coming over controversial tweets by MP David Ward. But Davies says Jewish and Liberal Democrat values of respect for the individual and concern for the least well off in society are intertwined.

He says: “David Ward is one MP who does not, and never has, spoken on behalf of the Liberal Democrats on issues relating to Israel and the Middle East. “He has said many wholly unacceptable things, as a result of which the party whip was suspended for a period.” Davies says stronger action should have been taken against Ward, but insists his views, as with controversial voices in other parties, do not represent the wider stance.

He says: “I do believe stronger action should have been taken against Ward, but the party’s views on Israel and the Middle East should not be defined by David Ward any more than the Conservatives or Labour are defined by Alan Duncan or Jeremy Corbyn.”

He insists the Liberal Democrats are behind the community, particularly when it comes to Israel and the threat to shechitah in the UK, adding: “The Liberal Democrats are committed to a two-state solution. “Nick Clegg has always said that Israel and the Palestinians have the fundamental right to live in peace and security. He has also said he opposed the UK introducing a ban on the slaughter of animals in accordance with shechita. No government of which the Liberal Democrats form part would support this.”

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