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Tower Hamlets plan to twin with Jenin 'fires anti-Semitism'

By Chris Gray
The Independent
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 was approved.

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 in peace.

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.