Daniel Zeichner, Labour candidate for Cambridge MP in the upcoming electionLouis Ashworth

Daniel Zeichner, the Labour Party candidate for Cambridge MP, has been criticised by Jewish students over his response to questions regarding antisemitism within the Labour party. 

He was invited to speak at a Hustings event hosted by Selwyn College Politics Society as part of a series entitled ‘Selwyn Politics: Meet your Candidates’. Each week a different Cambridgeshire candidate takes part in a Q&A session conducted by the Master of Selwyn, the President of the society and Selwyn students. Zeichner was the fourth candidate to speak in the series. 

The Labour candidate was asked several questions on the subject of anti-semitism within the Labour party, both by Selwyn’s Master and by two Jewish students who were present, and wish to remain anonymous. Speaking to Varsity, both these Jewish students independently described Zeichner’s responses as “dismissive”.

One student asked Zeichner’s view on what the Labour party should do to resolve recent anti-semitism allegations. Zeicher’s response was to state that the  Labour party is a “voluntary organisation”, likening it to a “football club” and a “church”, before asking: “what else do you want us to do?” The student who asked the question felt that his answers showed “a fundamental lack understanding, and complicit naivety”. 

Later, during a private conversation with one of the Jewish students present, having noted that she was clearly “dissatisfied” with his answers to earlier questions, the student says Zeichner repeatedly reassured her that he would personally try and protect the Jewish community. Asked again why the Labour party has not thoroughly dealt with all complaints of members breaching the IHRA definition of anti-semitism, he said that if they did then due to legal fees it would drive the Labour Party to “bankruptcy”. The student then asked if the Labour Party value “bankruptcy over zero tolerance for racism” to which Zeichner responded “don’t misquote me”. She then walked away. 

Speaking about the comments made at the Selwyn Hustings Event, a representative from the Cambridge University Jewish Society (JSOC), Matt Handler, said: “Zeichner’s dismissive comments have given the impression to the Jewish community here that he is willfully ignorant on issues regarding anti-semitism. Asking a Jewish student “what more do you want us to do?” in a public hustings is insensitive and inappropriate, as is approaching a student whilst she was on her own to deflect the serious problem onto the party’s finances. JSOC has a zero tolerance on the negligence and belittling of anti-semitism in Cambridge and the wider community, hence we demand more from our Labour candidate and past MP.’’

The Master of Selwyn and a Deputy Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge (previous Editorial Director at the BBC),  Roger Mosey, when asked about the event said: "It was an extremely powerful and valuable dialogue between Selwyn students and Daniel Zeichner. Listening to Jewish students and to my Jewish friends, it is manifestly the case that the Labour Party needs to do more to rid itself of the scourge of anti-Semitism."


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When asked to comment on the incident, Zeichner said: “I stand in solidarity with the Jewish community and I am sorry for the hurt and offence that has been caused to members of the Jewish community. Anti-semitism is abhorrent and must be eradicated. It is perfectly possible, and legitimate to criticise the policies and actions of the Israeli Government, as of any other Government, without being anti-semitic, and I am absolutely determined that the Labour Party rids itself of those who have caused us such shame.’’ 

This is not the first time Daniel Zeichner has been accused of insensitivity towards the Jewish population of Cambridge. At a Cambridge Union debate in 2010, he performed a Nazi salute and ‘Hitler mousetache’ to compare the Conservative Party to the far-right extremists. The Rabbi of Cambridge Traditional Jewish Congregation, Rabbi Reuben Leigh, condemned his actions strongly, stating “To make light of the Nazi salute in a Cambridge Union Society debate is despicable”. When asked to comment on this event for this article in light of recent allegations of anti-semitism from within his party, Zeichner commented that he agrees this was a “poor choice” and that he “apologised at the time”.

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