Political neutrality and the Jewish Chronicle

Is the voice of Anglo-Jewry cosying up to the Tories?

Guest post from Julian Kossoff

The Kaminski affair was the freaky sideshow of the Tory party conference in Manchester. David Cameron and his handlers toiled hard to kill allegations that the Polish MEP Michal Kaminski, Cameron's new best friend in Europe, had an unsavoury anti-Semitic and homophobic track record, dismissing this as a Guardian/Labour stitch-up.

But by the middle of the week they were upended when the Board of Deputies of British Jews (the representative body of Britain's 300,000 Jews) asked "discreet" questions about Kaminski, the man now entrusted with leadership of the European Conservatives and Reformists Group.

What is Anglo-Jewry to make of this row?

Well, naturally, they would turn to the Jewish Chronicle -- the leading Jewish voice in the UK -- to find out more.

However, the JC has now become part of the story, in the shape of its respected editor, Stephen Pollard.

Pollard has made the unprecedented decision to use the considerable authority of his position to back Kaminski, despite compelling evidence that the MEP is, at least, a former fellow-traveller of Polish anti-Semitism.

The move is raising great concern that Mr Pollard has broken the JC's historic covenant with its readers to remain non-partisan, undermining its credibility as a "broad synagogue" inclusive of the differing opinions in a diverse community.

Pollard's gift of a "kosher" seal of approval for Kaminski has been a godsend for the Conservatives, but has left others wondering why the JC editor has cheerled so hard for an obscure professional politician from Poland. The question is whether, in doing so, he has betrayed the memory of the Polish Jews massacred at Jedwabne in 1941.

Indeed, Pollard repeatedly rubbished claims that Kaminski had drawn (anti-Semitic) parallels between that blood-curdling pogrom, committed during the Nazi occupation, and so-called Jewish collaboration with the Soviets, only for Kaminski to repeat these thoughts in an exclusive JC interview on Friday.

The following day, again in the JC, it was reported that Kaminski had also recanted previous denials that he had worn a Polish fascist symbol.

But this did not stop Pollard lambasting the Board of Deputies for its "catastrophic lack of judgement" (the words "pot" and "kettle" spring to mind) for requesting information on Kaminksi in the middle of the Tory conference. He denounced them as tools of New Labour -- yet what does such a vociferous and misjudged defence of a European anti-federalist make him?

Pollard has been left balancing on the pinhead argument that Kaminski is pro-Israel. However, many on the European right admire Israel as a bulwark against Islamic militancy, and not because of any feelings of fondness towards Jews in their own backyard.

As Pollard's strained self-justification built to a crescendo, members of his own editorial team have looked on aghast.

With a general election imminent, it is vital that the JC re-establish its all-important role as the independent voice of Anglo-Jewry.

Julian Kossoff was a senior reporter at the Jewish Chronicle from 1988-95

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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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