Jews condemn treatment of rabbi Tory candidate at mosque

Jewish community representatives have condemned the treatment of a rabbi berated outside a mosque he had been invited to speak at.

Rabbi Arnold Saunders, a councillor in Salford, who uses a walking stick, was left shaking as he was harangued and called a “snake” but has since played down the incident.

He had gone to Masjid Bilal mosque in Prestwich, Greater Manchester to speak after prayers last Friday, as he is standing for the Conservative Party in the Bury South constituency in the General Election.

He had been invited there by Muslim elders, but a video online shows the elderly candidate being abused before he enters and finally leaves without speaking.

The Board of Deputies of British Jews said in a statement: “We are disgusted by the abusive treatment of Rabbi Arnold Saunders, a candidate in Bury South.

“Rabbi Saunders had been invited by the elders of a local mosque; the video shows that some of the attendees took issue with this and the footage clearly shows the Rabbi was being targeted in this fashion due to his religion.

“We urge all who care about the health of our democracy to call out this bigotry.”

Rabbi Saunders told the PA news agency on Monday he was “feeling fine” and never felt afraid for his personal safety during the incident.

He said: “Obviously the video looks quite bad, but I think it looks worse than it was – at no point was I threatened.”

Rabbi Saunders said 500 other people who had attended the event had treated him with “great respect and courtesy” and that the abuse only came from “one guy egged on by a couple of others”.

He said he had requested that police did not take any further action and that he had received “tremendous support from the highest echelons of the Conservative Party”.

During the four-minute incident, a man shouting at Rabbi Saunders tells him not to “come to the house of Allah” and orders him to leave, claiming: “You justified children to be murdered…when you are with your own people these are the things you say, then you come here and smile like a snake.”

Christian Wakeford, until the general election was called the Labour MP for Bury South and the party’s candidate on July 4, said in a statement on X: “Both Bilal Mosque and Rabbi Saunders have undertaken many years of progressive interfaith work which is in stark contrast to this individual’s behaviour which is totally unacceptable.

“We get nowhere in the world without dialogue and this is not representative of Bury South.

“Despite political disagreements myself and Rabbi Saunders have always had an excellent relationship and I hope he is ok following this incident.”

The Jewish Representative Council of Greater Manchester, said in a statement: “Rabbi Saunders is a much respected communal figure and we unequivocally condemn his treatment in this video.

“It is unquestionably antisemitic and we expect action to be taken.

“The incident occurred following an invitation by the mosque to meet their congregants.

“As an organisation we were delighted to invite and welcome members from the Mosque to our Hustings.

“The fact he has been attacked emphasises how individuals are importing the tragic conflict taking place in Israel and Gaza onto the streets of the UK.

“This is manifesting itself in politicians campaigning in a General Election being targeted, abused and unable to freely move around the constituencies they are seeking to represent.

“When politicians are unable to speak about their views in public, have meetings disrupted and their offices attacked, it constitutes a real risk to our democracy.

“We hope that there are no further scenes of this nature as we approach polling day.”

In a statement the mosque said most people had “engaged positively” with Rabbi Arnold’s visit.

It continued: “Unfortunately, one or two individuals questioned the rabbi in a hostile manner and this clip has been widely circulated. This clip was recorded by one of the individuals himself.

“The rabbi was a guest of the mosque, and he was treated inappropriately and disrespectfully. Any genuine political questions should have been raised respectfully.

“We regret what has happened, we have already apologised to the rabbi for how he was treated and wish to extend our apologies to others who have seen the clip and are upset by it.

“This incident is not reflective of the congregation of the mosque or the Muslim community in Bury.

“Rabbi Saunders, a seasoned politician with many years of experience, and a former member of the Conservative Muslim Forum has himself taken the incident very calmly.

“Masjid E Bilal has a long track record of good inter-faith relations and positive relations with the Jewish and other faith communities.

“The Muslim community itself suffered some incidents during this year’s Purim celebrations at the hands of some youth activists.

“None of these incidents are reflective of most of the people in the area.

“We call on anyone attending any election events, wherever it may be, to remain calm and respectful whilst questioning candidates or holding politicians to account.”