Hamlets plan to twin with Jenin 'fires anti-Semitism'
By Chris Gray
20 July 2002
Councillors in Tower Hamlets are proposing to twin the multi-cultural
borough with the West Bank town of Jenin in a move Jewish leaders
say risks bringing Middle East tensions to inner city London.
The proposal has been condemned for encouraging anti-Semitism by
showing support for a town that sheltered many of the Palestinian
suicide bombers who attacked Israelis.
But supporters of the plan said it was no more than a show of solidarity
with ordinary people in the town, the site of an alleged massacre
of Palestinians by Israeli troops in March.
Councillors agreed to look at twinning with Jenin after the plan
was put to a full council meeting by two Tower Hamlets residents,
Paul McGarr and Sharif Furkan. In a move that is understood to have
taken councillors by surprise, they called for a vote to order officials
to start twinning arrangements.
But the council's cabinet member for twinning, Michael Keith, and
its leader Helal Uddin Abbas tabled a compromise motion asking for
an investigation into the "feasibility" of twinning, which
Local Jewish leaders warned the move could increase anti-Semitism
in the area, once home to large numbers of Jewish immigrants, and
Greville Janner, vice-president of the World Jewish Congress, said
it was a clear attempt to stir up anti-Israeli feeling.
Lord Janner, who visited Jenin in the aftermath of allegations
of an Israeli massacre, said it risked a spill over of Middle Eastern
tensions into London. "This is a sad and deliberate attempt
to refocus attention on Jenin, where there was no massacre. Jenin
is a key terrorist base and it is surely inappropriate for a decent
British borough to twin with that town.
"We should all be seeking ways to advance the cause of peace
and the Tower Hamlets proposal is not one of them. If they decide
to twin with Jenin, they should [also] twin with an Israeli town
whose citizens have suffered from the Palestinian suicide bombers
and other terrorists."
The spokesman for the twinning campaign, Martin Empson, said the
original motion to the council called for a just solution for the
Palestinians that allowed Jewish, Muslim and Christians to live
Mr Empson, a member of the Socialist Alliance and the Stop the
War Coalition, said the campaign was supported by Jewish people
and it was wrong to claim it would provoke anti-Semitism. "Historically
there has been a large Jewish community in Tower Hamlets. Nowadays
it is smaller but down the years they have struggled against oppression
and racism. This is a part of that."
The council's compromise motion is likely to shelve the proposal
indefinitely, but Mr Empson said it was a success even if nothing
came of it. He said, it was not intended to be provocative but individual
activists in Tower Hamlet had been shocked by events in Jenin and
wanted to show support for ordinary people there.
Mr Keith stressed the proposal had come from members of the public
and the council was considering the pros and cons.
The Israeli embassy in London said it had no objections as long
as it was a genuine statement of support for the people of Jenin
and not a show of solidarity with terrorists.