UK cabinet minister blasts major Jewish group for criticizing immigration policy

Home Secretary Suella Braverman warns Board of Deputies against veering into partisanship while announcing new security funding

Cnaan Lidor is The Times of Israel's Jewish World reporter

British Home Secretary Suella Braverman speaks at the annual Community Security Trust fundraising dinner in London, UK, on March 29, 2023. (CST)
British Home Secretary Suella Braverman speaks at the annual Community Security Trust fundraising dinner in London, UK, on March 29, 2023. (CST)

A British cabinet minister lambasted a Jewish group Wednesday during an announcement on increased government funding for the security of Jewish institutions, after the organization criticized her party’s immigration policy.

UK Home Secretary Suella Braverman flung her barbs at the Board of Deputies of British Jews, an umbrella group representing multiple communal organs, over its March 9 statement expressing “significant concerns” about the government’s Illegal Migration Bill, which proposes to significantly toughen current rules on unauthorized immigration, while noting that it could breach various human rights conventions.

The group’s statement set off an unusual exchange that underlines growing tension between the Board, which is widely seen as dovish in its political orientation, and the government under the right-wing Conservative Party. It also prompted criticism of the Board by Jews who shared Braverman’s reservations about what they described as partisanship and overreach by the Board.

Speaking at the annual fundraising event of the Community Security Trust, British Jewry’s main security unit, Braverman, whose husband is Jewish, announced a $1.2 million government grant for Jewish community security needs and the formation of a dedicated task force for fighting antisemitic crimes.

But Braverman, a top member of the ruling Conservative Party and the daughter of Indian parents who immigrated to Britain from Africa, also said, “Presenting contested political positions as the sentiment of an entire community is a recipe for communal division.” On immigration, the “difference of opinion within the community” is “along conventional left or right lines,” she added. Communal organizations, she added, “must transcend lines of political difference if they are to legitimately remain representative of their diverse communities.”

Board of Deputies President Marie van der Zyl responded Thursday with a statement justifying the Board’s March 9 communique. She wrote that the bill was “understandably of importance to British Jews,” a subtle reference to the fact that most British Jews are descended from people who left mainland Europe at times of deadly, violent, or institutional antisemitism.

Van der Zyl thanked the government for the increase in funding but added: “We regret that this announcement was made alongside criticism clearly aimed at our organization.” There will be times “where we feel the need to express concern,” van der Zyl wrote. “We feel fortunate to live in a country with a political system where it is possible.”

The Jewish Labour Movement, a prominent society within that left-leaning party, came to the Board’s defense in a statement, calling Braveman’s comments as going “beyond chutzpah.” British Jewry “is one that has a deep understanding of immigration. The Board of Deputies was right to voice concerns about the impact of Government policy on asylum seekers. Suella Braverman would do well to listen.”

Gabriel Kanter-Webber, a rabbi at Brighton and Hove Progressive Synagogue, defended the Board and criticized the Community Security Trust for inviting Braverman to speak in the first place. “Braverman’s politics are so fundamentally inconsistent with Jewish values that no Jewish space should offer her a platform, ever, under any circumstances,” he wrote on Facebook.

Other Jewish community activists as well as at least one communal organization sided with Braverman.

“She is absolutely right,” wrote Gary Mond, chairman of the National Jewish Assembly, a newly-founded group that is critical of what it perceives as the Board’s partisanship, about the minister. “For the Board, or any other Jewish communal organization, to take a partisan political stance on an issue which is of no concern to the Jewish community here and now, is a manifest recipe for divisiveness among Jews in this country.”

Jonathan Hoffman, a pro-Israel activist and former Board deputy, wrote on Facebook: “The Board was acting unconstitutionally. UK immigration policy is none of its business.”

Lance Forman, a Jewish Londoner who before the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union had served as a lawmaker in the European Parliament for the right-wing Brexit Party, said: “The Board seems to think it can simply express the left-wing views of its leadership and that is wrong.”

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