Jewish group urges council to rearrange Friday night meeting

Enfield Civic Centre

Jewish councillor says there is ‘no excuse’ for extraordinary meeting to be scheduled on Friday night, reports James Cracknell

A leading religious group has called on Enfield Council to rearrange a crucial meeting scheduled for a Friday night during the Jewish Sabbath.

The upcoming extraordinary council meeting this Friday at 7pm will see a debate held on whether or not councillors have confidence in the current Labour-run administration. If the Conservative motion succeeds, it could see a new council leader chosen.

But the timing of the meeting has caused controversy because it coincides with the Jewish Sabbath, or Shabbat, which is a weekly ritual beginning at sunset every Friday. Observance requires Jewish people to refrain from work-related activities.

The London Jewish Forum, a joint venture of the Board of Deputies and Jewish Leadership Council, wrote to council leader Nesil Caliskan calling for the meeting to be rearranged for a different date or time.

Community First, a group of ex-Labour councillors on the council who have opposed Cllr Caliskan’s leadership, has two Jewish members. One, Daniel Anderson, confirmed he won’t be attending Friday’s meeting for religious reasons.

Cllr Anderson said: “Obviously I am extremely disappointed about the scheduling. There is no excuse for the meeting to be held on a Friday evening in the full knowledge that this will not only exclude members like myself from attending and participating in this extraordinary council meeting, but also observant Jewish members of the public who likewise will be unable to observe the proceedings.

“It’s of huge concern that here we are in the 21st Century with a council supposedly committed to national equalities legislation, with its own equalities, diversities and inclusion policy document, but failing at the first hurdle when a situation such as this arises. This suggests that they are merely paying lip service.”

The London Jewish Forum’s letter, signed by three leading members of the group, says: “It has been brought to our notice that Enfield Council is intending to hold a meeting on the evening of Friday 19th March. It has been covered extensively on social media that this would prevent an observant Jewish councillor attending.

“The Jewish Sabbath comes in at 17.57 on Friday 19th and for any council that has observant Jewish councillors there would be a religious prohibition from taking part in such a meeting as it would be ‘breaking the Sabbath laws’ and even for any Jewish person who in anyway kept the Sabbath this would likely still prevent them attending.

“If meetings are to be held on a Friday and you have Jewish councillors they would need to be home at least 90 minutes before the Sabbath starts. In this case any meeting should conclude by 16.30 at the latest.

“We would hope that you would arrange this accordingly in line with Enfield’s own policies.”

The council has stated that the meeting cannot be rearranged for a later date because election rules prohibiting party-political debate come into force next week, ahead of May’s by-elections and City Hall vote.

An Enfield Council spokesperson said: “Unfortunately, because of the timing of the request for an extraordinary council meeting, the only available date before purdah started was Friday 19th March.

“Council officers have attempted to accommodate all parties, but unless the councillors who have called the extraordinary council meeting permit the meeting being called after the mayoral elections, it is required to go ahead.”