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Charges of anti-Semitism in British campaign

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British opposition leader Michael Howard, the head of the Conservative Party. ("Conservative Party, U.K.")

British opposition leader Michael Howard, the head of the Conservative Party. (“Conservative Party, U.K.”)

LONDON, Jan. 31 (JTA) — Accusations of anti-Semitism have become a part of Britain’s election campaign. In the latest of a series of high-profile spats over prejudice, Conservatives have expressed outrage over a poster produced by the Labor Party. The image, a pun on the phrase, “pigs might fly,” features the faces of Conservative leaders Michael Howard and Oliver Letwin — two of Britain’s most prominent Jewish politicians — superimposed on pigs’ bodies. Labor politicians and Jewish leaders dismissed claims of prejudice, but there is concern that the scandal could distract attention from the issue of rising anti-Semitism in the country. In mid-February, a major new report by the Community Security Trust, the body that monitors threats to British Jewry, is expected to show a large increase in anti-Semitic attacks. The political poster, intended as part of Labor’s campaign for the May general elections, is one of several on the party’s Web site, with visitors invited to vote for their favorite. Andrew Mennear, the Conservative candidate in London’s Golders Green, an area with a large Jewish community, slammed the poster as “shocking and tasteless.” “I am shocked the Labor Party finds it remotely clever or amusing to impose the faces of probably the two highest-profile Jewish politicians onto flying pigs,” he said. Katia David, a politician in north London, said, “This poster is a cheap, political shot, that has been ill-thought out and is found deeply unpleasant by Jews and Muslims. I hope Labor will see sense and revoke this campaign and apologize.” Religious Jews and Muslims do not eat pigs. The scandal erupted last week as the world marked the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz and Holocaust Memorial Day. But the Labor Party refused to withdraw the poster, saying it was not an expression of prejudice. “We don’t regard the posters as anti-Semitic,” a spokesman told JTA. “They are an attack on the Conservative party and made the very simple point that the Conservative sums do not add up.” The Labor Party said it had heard no complaints from Jewish groups. The poster dispute played out in the media, featuring prominently in all the major national newspapers. But the Board of Deputies, the representative body of British Jewry, declined to make an official comment. Jewish leader Lord Greville Janner said his own inquiries in the party had reassured him that there was no anti-Jewish intention behind the poster. The furor followed another incident in January when the Conservative Party lodged a complaint with the Commission for Racial Equality after a Labor Party minister published a piece in a Muslim newspaper attacking Howard. The minister of trade and industry, Mike O’Brien, told the Muslim Weekly that Labor was the only party that would protect the rights of Muslims and dedicate itself to the creation of a Palestinian state. “Ask yourself what will Michael Howard do for British Muslims? Will his foreign policy aim to help Palestine?” he wrote. “It saddens me greatly that a Labor minister should stoop to such a low personal attack,” Howard responded, “and deploy such blatant scare tactics as this.” Jewish community figures emphasized that their real worry was not whether Labor was inherently anti-Semitic but whether alleging racial prejudice would become a tactic to be played ahead of the polls. “In my view this has a distinct political turn,” Lord Janner said. “The Conservatives do not like the posters and they are creating a deliberate political paranoia.” But the commission swiftly dismissed Howard’s complaint. “We are completely satisfied that no aspect of the race relations laws have been breached,” a spokesman said, “so this is not an instance where CRE intervention is appropriate. Making political points about their opponents is precisely what political parties do all the time.”

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