The article by Martin Bright in last week’s Jewish Chronicle denouncing prominent figures in the Jewish community for failing to boycott London Citizens over its links with the East London Mosque has provoked a welcome backlash from the paper’s readers.
A leader in this week’s issue headed “Islamism’s allies”, presumably written by JC editor Stephen Pollard, states:
Last week we published an analysis by our political editor of the ongoing problems with London Citizens and the East London Mosque, and criticising those who lend these two organisations their support. We have received many outraged letters from those who think such support is not merely acceptable but vital. They are profoundly mistaken. If ever there was an issue that the JC exists to highlight it is this deeply misguided alliance with fellow travellers of Islamism.
The letters criticising Bright that appear in the print edition of the paper have not as yet been published on the JC website, so here they are.
WITTENBERG IS NO ‘USEFUL IDIOT’ BUT RATHER A ‘BRAVE, INSPIRATIONAL LEADER’
• Martin Bright (JC, December 16) calls Masorti senior rabbi, Jonathan Wittenberg, a “useful idiot” for participating in an interfaith celebration of the winter festivals alongside Christians, Muslims and Jews from dozens of churches, mosques, schools and community institutions across London.
While the term “useful idiot” has specific historical connotations, most readers will rightly construe it as an unwarranted, offensive attack on one of our community’s most thoughtful, brave and inspirational leaders. We believe this kind of insulting language has no place in the pages of the JC.
Basil Shall (Co-Chair, New North London Synagogue); Clive Sheldon QC (Vice-Chair, Assembly of Masorti Synagogues)
East End Road, London N3
• I was among the 500 or so representatives of churches, mosques, schools, synagogues, trade unions, universities and youth organisations who attended the first annual assembly of North London Citizens.
Unfortunately, I missed the opening progressive fanfare from shofarot, interspersed with readings underlining the call to action. I did hear the adoption of the social justice agenda: interfaith, Big Society and social action of the highest order.
I believe Rabbi Wittenberg was present and anyone who has read his articles in the JC or seen his inspirational input into the New North London Synagogue would have found Martin Bright’s allusion to him as a “useful idiot”, abhorrent. Rabbi Wittenberg is marching in the footsteps of his teacher Rabbi Abraham Heschel, who campaigned for human rights with his friend, the Rev Martin Luther King. And we know there were extremists in the crowd that day.
Better to engage with and defy the views of such people than to condemn them from the sidelines.
• Martin Bright’s article raises a wider issue. The consolidation of the Anglo-Jewish community in North London and Manchester means that there are few Jewish voices to be heard elsewhere. Many Britons have never seen or spoken to a Jew. One of the few ways we can make contact with the wider British community is by participation in multi-faith activities.
Does Mr Bright suppose that Rabbi Wittenberg’s withdrawal from London Citizens would result in the organisation collapsing? Rather, it would be hailed by Muslim extremists as a victory and would marginalise the Jewish community even further.
London Citizens involves 160 schools, churches, mosques, trade unions, synagogues and voluntary organisations, of which the East London Mosque is only one.
Far from being a “useful idiot,” Rabbi Wittenberg is to be admired for fighting the Jewish corner – not always a pleasant task – and for providing a Jewish input to the London Citizens’ work, for example an amnesty for undocumented migrants and initiatives for safer cities. He also provides an ally for other member organisations threatened by extremism.
• A pageant of schools and faith groups celebrates the diversity of their religious traditions in the East End of London. A day later, the JC launches the fiercest attack possible, linking the words “Jihad” and “Jews”. Synagogues and other Jewish communal organisations have a high degree of accountability. To whom is a JC journalist accountable? Should we, its readers, not expect the newspaper of the Anglo-Jewish community to uphold our expectations of responsible reporting?
Synagogues such as mine and others involved in Citizens UK, understand that our raison d’etre extends beyond the scope of our internal realities, We want to work out what we have in common with our neighbours, and to work together to achieve change.
(Rabbi) Shulamit Ambalu
North London Progressive Jewish Community
• It would have been tragic if a Jewish voice had not been heard – particularly an inspirational one like Rabbi Wittenberg’s.
Attendance was not an endorsement of Dr Bari’s opinions. But to have stayed away would simply have meant that those present would not have heard a Jewish voice. Martin Bright’s view that it would somehow have brought pressure to bear on the leadership of the East London Mosque might be described as “idiotic”. But then I would not use that kind of language.
Heath View, London N2