Saturday, September 30, 2006

Jewish Activist pledges to oppose BNP and rising anti-Islamic rhetoric

Jewish activist Alex Sobel, who was hounded out of the Morley area of Leeds by the BNP two years ago, has vowed to return to oppose the far-right party in next year's council elections.

In May 2006, Morley town, once famous worldwide for it's multiculturally welcoming techno Club 'The Orbit' which closed it's doors in 2004, became politically infamous after BNP candidate Chris Beverley gained 40 per cent of the small town's vote - two years after Mr Sobel sold his Morley home after threats of BNP violence against him.

Mr Sobel's first contact with Mr Beverley was in 1999 when he was serving as National Union of Students' West Yorkshire convenor. He told a fringe meeting of the Jewish Labour Movement at this week's Labour Conference in Manchester: "The Free Speech Society put a motion before the annual meeting to scrap the 'no platform' policy for racists and fascists."

Mr Sobel discovered that the motion had been proposed by BNP members Mark Collett and Chris Beverley, and with a combined effort by student activists, the motion was "roundly defeated".

He said: "In the 2003 elections, Chris Beverley put out a BNP leaflet. He received less than 10 per cent of the vote. I thought that the BNP could not get elected in the friendly, multicultural city of Leeds in which I had lived for 10 years. But the situation became more serious in 2004. The BNP were putting out leaflets against post office closures and housing allocations."

With the help of trade unions and church groups, Mr Sobel worked up to 30 hours a week fighting the far-right group. He was helped by an anti-fascist group who exposed the fact that Mr Beverley had spent a year studying with the German fascist NPD party.

Then the local Morley newspaper published a threatening letter from Mr Beverley, saying: "We know where you are, Alex." Every night when Mr Sobel returned from work, he found a car parked in his drive. He discovered that his neighbour across the road was a BNP candidate for another ward. Then Mr Sobel's picture and address were posted on the Redwatch website - a far-right address which threatens violence against its perceived enemies. Mr Sobel said: "There was a personal safety issue. They were threatening me in the streets and in the papers."

When former UJIA president Dov Hamburger warned of the rampant Islamic threat faced by Jews, Mr Sobel responded: "I resent your language about the Islamic threat. Some of my best friends are Muslims. I resent your language about the Islamic threat. We must not retreat behind the dark language of talking about homogenous communities. We have to be careful how we use language. We should sit down and engage people and not label and stereotype."

Labour Party national executive chairman Sir Jeremy Beecham said: "It is the responsibility of the Jewish community to reach out to Muslims."

MP Louise Ellman said: "It is the duty of all of us to expose the racist ideology behind the BNP."
She revealed that two non-Jewish students from Dudley who had been funded on a trip to Auschwitz by the Holocaust Education Trust had canvassed against the BNP.

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