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Plan for Islamic centre in largely Jewish London area sparks anger and Islamophobia allegations

Jewish leaders who criticised some of the opposition to the Islamic centre in Golders Green as 'Islamophobic' have in turn been branded 'liberal Kapos'

Adam Lusher
Tuesday 17 October 2017 17:46 BST
Golders Green Hippodrome, in an area of north London traditionally associated with its large Jewish population, is being turned into an Islamic centre
Golders Green Hippodrome, in an area of north London traditionally associated with its large Jewish population, is being turned into an Islamic centre (ceridwen)

Plans for an Islamic centre in the heart of a traditionally Jewish London community have sparked a dispute so bitter that some opponents have been accused of vitriolic Islamophobia, while the scheme’s Jewish defenders have been compared to Nazi concentration camp ‘Kapos’.

There have been 350 objections and a 5,676–signature petition opposing a planning application by The Centre for Islamic Enlightening to turn the old Golders Green Hippodrome into a Muslim place of worship.

The petition and many objections to the council cite the potential for traffic congestion and lack of parking places near the former theatre, which had been an evangelical Christian centre before the Muslim group bought it.

But a minority of opponents have, according to fellow members of the Jewish community, shown blatant Islamophobia.

Comments on the Facebook page of Golders Green Together, a group opposed to the development, have included:

“Who are they praying to and what are they plotting? … Beware the Islamic takeover.”

“Islamic colonialism – in the heart of what was the only uniquely Jewish area in the UK.”

“I am the only one with the guts to say what everybody else is thinking. It has nothing to do with parking or traffic. We don’t want a mosque there and who can blame us? Those Muslims purposely picked Golders Green because it’s a Jewish area. They want to stamp us out … It’s one of the only Jewish areas left in London and we don't want it polluted and destroyed by a bunch of Jew-hating Muslim terrorists.”

Some of those opposing the development have pointed to a fundraising video for the project which stated the aim was to create “among the largest Islamic centres in Europe”.

The controversy has become so bitter that Barnet Council, which will decide on the planning application, has started hiding residents’ responses to the scheme from public view.

Objections posted on the council website and seen by The Independent before they were hidden, included many comments about traffic and car parking, but also remarks such as: “This area is a predominantly Jewish area. If you put a massive mosque in the heart of it, you are asking for big trouble.”

Not all of the most outspoken objectors are thought to be Jewish. One opponent appears from his social media accounts to support far-right organisations including Britain First.

His posts on the Facebook page of Golders Green Together have included the unsubstantiated claim that “On Sunday [October] the first they swarmed the whole area with a victory parade of cars with jihadi flags and inbreds with 2 different eye-sizes … It was their victory parade over the submissive and apathetic infidel.”

In its own Facebook posts, Golders Green Together has advised those objecting to Barnet Council to cite issues such as congestion, pollution and the character of the Golders Green Conservation Area. It does not suggest objecting to the religion practised at the Islamic Centre.

Posts attributed to “Golders Green Together” on its Facebook site, however, include a link to a think-tank article headlined “Building mosques on sacred sites of defeated enemies a symbol of conquest”, with the comment: “This article must be read to understand some concerns.”

A link to a news story about an East End synagogue being bought by a neighbouring mosque is accompanied by the question: “Which Golders Green synagogue will be next?”

The tone of the comments from some of the Islamic Centre’s opponents has provoked outspoken criticism from a succession of leading Jewish figures.

Marcus Dysch, political editor of the Jewish Chronicle, called elements of the opposition to the Islamic Centre “inexcusable Islamophobia, an embarrassment to British Jews.”

Parliamentary adviser Jay Stoll objected to the use of the name Golders Green Together, which was also the name of an anti-Nazi campaign that he led in 2015.

He said: “Very disappointed to see the same slogan used to protest planning permission for a mosque. Hardly representative of the campaign we ran.

“Imams and Muslim activists/politicians were the first to offer help in 2015.”

Laura Marks, chair of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust wrote in the Jewish Chronicle: “[Some of] the language being used is simply not right. Language has been misused by other evil regimes in subsequent genocides, and as Jews we always need to be very aware of this.

“I wouldn’t for one moment suggest we are using Nazi language, but we must recognise the danger of what we say and how that fuels mistrust, separation, prejudice and hatred.”

Rabbi Mark Goldsmith, of the Golders Green Alyth Reform congregation, told the Jewish Chronicle that some of the comments against the Islamic Centre had been “threatening and misleading”.

He added: “I suspect it’s the same sort of thing said about Jews moving to Golders Green in the 1920s. Golders Green is not entirely Jewish. It’s a special place to live and we all get along together.”

These criticisms, however, provoked further anger from some opponents of the Islamic Centre.

Posting on the Facebook page of Golders Green Together, one Jewish man wrote: “The liberal capos [sic] dominate the media” – an apparent reference to Kapos, Nazi concentration camp prisoners selected by the SS to supervise their fellow Jewish prisoners who became hated for their brutality.

Laura Marks’ article drew the response: “I’m so fed up of these weak spineless Jews appeasing Muslims and turning on their own people just because we have the guts to speak up and tell the truth.

“These Muslims will be laughing their heads off that we have rolled out the red carpet for our own demise. Once the mosque is up and running then come the halal restaurants and the Muslim clothes and retail shops. Then houses in the area will get bought up and before you know it … That will be the end of Golders Green.”

Golders Green Together posted a series of responses accusing critics of unfairly tarnishing all the Islamic Centre’s opponents as racist.

In a response directed at Laura Marks it said: “Your entire article erroneously pre-supposes that all those who object to this planning application are working in union so you can draw non-existent conclusions of intent.

“Using emotive words like “Nazi” before going on to define legitimate reasons for objections, like parking is disingenuous.”

The post added: “You claim to have Rabbis on board and yet you mention only one, leaving out the dozens of Rabbis in Golders Green of whom you have never heard.

“You refer to the local church playing a role, leaving aside completely other churches in the area who oppose this planning application, not because of evil intent, but because they envisage its impact on this conservation area.”

The response also told Ms Marks: “You might see things very differently through your own rose-tinted glasses whilst on your Friday school run to the mother of a child bombed by terrorists, or a daughter killed on the 7/7 bus, or the sister who watched as her sibling’s throat was slit open.”

The Grade II-listed Hippodrome, built in 1913, played host to performers including Marlene Dietrich and Danny La Rue.

In 1969 the BBC turned it into a studio and concert hall.

In 2007 the building was sold to the evangelical El Shaddai International Christian Centre, but congregations reportedly diminished and in July of this year the Hippodrome was sold to The Centre for Islamic Enlightening for £5.25m.

In September the Shia Muslim community group applied to Barnet Council to change the use of the Hippodrome from “church” to “place of worship”, and to change its opening times so it can stay open an hour longer, until half past midnight.

At the time of the sale, Ahmed Al-Kazemi, a spokesman for the Shia Muslim community group, said: “We are very excited to be in Golders Green in such a diverse area. We can’t wait to get to know our neighbours

He added: “We were based in a warehouse before, but now we have a proper building which we can use to hold conferences, seminars. We are hoping to run many programmes including a nursery and Arabic school.”

After the opposition to the planning application emerged, he told The Observer: “I have lived in Golders Green for 15 years, I have a Jewish neighbour and a Christian neighbour, and they are my brothers.

“I would invite people who don’t know us, and maybe have said something nasty about us, to come and meet us.”

Barnet Council has yet to set a date for when it will rule on the planning application

Council leader Richard Cornelius said: “The application will be considered entirely on planning grounds.

“We are extremely proud of the way our communities live together.”

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