Jewish leaders accuse Blunkett of 'public insult'

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The Independent Online

Tensions in the Jewish community over Holocaust Memorial Day were revealed yesterday in leaked documents attacking the Home Secretary, David Blunkett, and the Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks.

The documents from the Board of Deputies of British Jews showed that its president, Jo Wagerman, had accused Mr Blunkett of insulting the Jewish community by failing to attend a press launch for the memorial. A memo from the board's director of communications, Fiona Macauley, claimed Dr Sacks had "invited himself" to the event and said a board representative rather than the Chief Rabbi should speak for the community.

An internal investigation is under way at the board into the leaks to the Jewish Chronicle newspaper. The documents are from the days leading up to the official launch of the commemoration in November.

Ms Wagerman wrote to Mr Blunkett complaining that a Home Office minister, Keith Bradley, was being sent in his place. She said the Jewish community had "real concern" that Mr Blunkett would not attend the launch or send a message indicating the Government's commitment. "It is as near as possible a public insult, at best a clear message that there is significant diminution in support for the specific commemorations of the Holocaust and for its wider message of tolerance, inclusivity and education on the part of the government.

"Not since the 1930s have the dangers of racial hatred and vulnerability of minority groups been as clear in Britain as they are today." The memo said the decision to send Mr Bradley would be greeted with "angry disbelief in the Jewish community and derision in the press and elsewhere".

The other leaked document was an internal memo from Ms Macauley to honorary officers of the board claiming that Dr Sacks had "invited himself to participate" in the memorial, although the Home Office had agreed that the board should speak for the community.

"The officials at the Home Office are aware that the Chief Rabbi is basically inviting himself to participate," she said, before asking honorary officers for advice on whether the board should intervene. "The Home Office is now exercising damage limitation and as they are aware that we are a barometer for the mood of the community as a whole, they are looking for us to guidance."

Eric Moonman, a former Labour MP and senior member of the board, said he had urged previously that the letter and memo should be made public because they were "festering" behind the scenes. He called on Ms Wagerman to change management style at the board to ensure tensions arising out of the documents were defused.

A spokesman for Dr Sacks said the Chief Rabbi was invited by the Home Secretary to speak at the memorial and there was "no question" of him inviting himself.

The board said relations with the Home Office were "excellent", while a Home Office spokesman said Mr Blunkett had been unable to attend the press launch due to other commitments but had attended the day itself in January. He said relations with the board's members were good.