Candidates were divided on the important Jewish issues at the first-ever Jewish hustings for the Welsh Assembly elections, which took place at Cardiff United Synagogue yesterday (Sunday).
Assembly candidates from six parties tussled over the issues raised in the ground-breaking Jewish Manifesto for the National Assembly for Wales, in an event chaired by Board of Deputies Chief Executive Gillian Merron and organised by the Board of Deputies and the South Wales Jewish Representative Council.
The main disagreements were on Boycott Divestment and Sanctions against Israel and religious slaughter (shechita).
Amelia Womack, Deputy Leader of the Green Party of England and Wales, described boycotts as a legitimate part of protest.
Plaid Cymru chair Dafydd Trystan-Davies said he opposed boycotts, but believed in a robust dialogue with Israel, a view echoed by Liberal Democrat Assembly Member, Eluned Parrott, who felt that boycotts would alienate Israel and stop its government coming to the negotiating table.
Labour’s Mark Drakeford, the Welsh Government’s Health Minister, said that criticism of Israel’s government was legitimate – noting that Israel has a vibrant democracy and internal criticism – but said that he opposed boycotts.
UKIP’s Sam Gould said that his party had consistently opposed boycotts of Israel, and that the EU’s anti-Israel stances were a good reason to vote to leave.
Conservative Assembly Member Mohammad Asghar said that David Cameron had been very clear in his opposition to boycotts. He added that, having personally been to Israel, he could say that it was ‘a great country, that will be here forever’.
The Conservative, Plaid Cymru, UKIP and Lib Dem candidates also pledged their support for Jewish religious freedoms. But Labour’s Mark Drakeford said that there was a need for a wider discussion with faith communities about stunning animals before killing them, while the Green’s Amelia Womack said that labelling of meat products should be much wider and include whether meat was killed by the kosher method.
Candidates from all parties were united in their opposition to antisemitism, and were surprised and saddened to see that the synagogue had to have security for the event. Labour’s Mark Drakeford backed a rule change proposed by the Jewish Labour Movement which could see antisemites given lifetime bans.
The Manifesto – the first ever Jewish policy document to be published in Welsh and English – was produced by the Board of Deputies and the South Wales Jewish Representative Council in time for the Assembly Elections on 5 May, and contains policy requests on a range of issues ranging from antisemitism to Israel, Shechita and Brit Milah to Holocaust Education, interfaith relations and social action.
A similar debate was held by the Glasgow Jewish Representative Council in Scotland on Thursday, with candidates gathering at Giffnock & Newlands Synagogue to debate a Jewish Manifesto for the Scottish Parliament, this time produced by the Board, the Scottish Council of Jewish Communities and the Glasgow Jewish Representative Council.
Audience members were deeply critical of the Scottish Green Party, which has supported boycotts, want to see Hamas de-listed as a terrorist organisation, and are looking to ban the Jewish National Fund in Scotland. To cries of ‘shame’, the Green Party’s candidate, Ross Greer said that he wanted an ‘honest conversation’ with the Jewish community, and wouldn’t ‘pander’.
Other candidates pointed at their respective records in tackling antisemitism and standing up for Israel in a wide-ranging debate that discussed Scottish independence, welfare and support for small businesses. The Jewish vote is crucial in Glasgow’s Eastwood constituency, which sees a three-way fight between Labour’s incumbent Ken Macintosh, Conservative Jackson Carlaw and the SNP’s Stewart Maxwell. The Liberal Democrats were represented by Paul McGarry, who professed his love for Israel, having previously lived and worked there.
This year was the first time that local Jewish communities, led by the Board of Deputies, have produced specific manifestos for the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish elections.
Photo: (Left to right) Stanley Soffa, President of the South Wales Jewish Representative Council, Amelia Womack, Dafydd Trystan Davies, Eluned Parrott, Mark Drakeford, Sheila Gewolb Mohammad Asghar, Sam Gould and Gillian Merron