A Welsh Assembly member who questioned “how much of it is in their heads” when asked about synagogue security has apologised – and referred herself for equalities training.
Labour’s Cardiff Central representative Jenny Rathbone stoked fury for suggesting Jews had a “siege mentality” when asked about shul security last year, in comments reported this week by the Jewish Chronicle.
In a statement to Jewish News, she said: “I accept the comments were insensitive and have laid me open to accusations of intolerance.
“I’ve always appreciated the good relationship I’ve had with my local Jewish community and I apologise for any upset my remarks may have caused to individual constituents and the wider Jewish community. I am meeting one of my local rabbis later today to apologise directly.”
Board of Deputies’ president Marie van der Zyl was among those angered at Rathbone’s insinuation that security measures “are somehow part of the Jewish community’s collective paranoia,” adding that Labour should be “ashamed”.
At a public event, Rathbone was asked about bolstered security at Cardiff United Synagogue, saying: “How much of it is for real and how much of it is in their own heads is really hard for an outsider to judge, but I think siege mentalities are also part of this”.
Conservative Welsh Assembly Member Mohammad Asghar said Rathbone’s comments were “flippant and ignorant of antisemitism in the UK,” adding that they “give complete disregard to the threat that the Jewish community has faced”.
The Community Security Trust (CST), which helps secure synagogues in the UK, said her comments suggested “a remarkable ignorance and lack of empathy,” adding that the recent Pittsburgh attack “shows the threat to Jewish communities is real”.
Jewish Leadership Council chief executive Simon Johnson said the enhanced security was “not down to a perceived risk but a real one,” adding: “Antisemitism is not the fault of the Jewish community. To paint it as such is perverse.”
Rathbone said she recognised the dangers to Jews around the world, saying: “No-one can or should downplay the fears and concerns that many Jewish people are experiencing. I had no intention of doing so and I am deeply sorry that I did.”
In response to further criticism levelled at her in relation to tweets about Israel, she said: “It is also not acceptable to suggest that the Jewish community are responsible for the actions of the Israeli Government.
“I hope to be able to continue to work closely with the local Jewish community to deepen my understanding of their concerns and experiences, and I will be referring myself for equalities training to assist with this process.”
Before the story broke, Rathbone had been invited to celebrate Chanukah at Cardiff United Synagogue, and had accepted. Asked whether the invite had been withdrawn, a shul employee said: “I don’t see any reason why it should be.”
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