A comprehensive awareness campaign to stop the British National Party winning a seat in the European Parliament elections on Thursday, June 4 has started. And Leeds Jewish Representative Council is facilitating a national drive initiated by the Board of Deputies in areas where seats are being contested.
In the Yorkshire and Humber region, five seats are being fought. And success for the BNP would enable them to represent thousands of Jews in the region with around 10 per cent of the vote.
Census figures by the Board of Deputies in 2001 stated there were 11,600 Jewish residents (Leeds 8,300 and Sheffield 800). The next census takes place in 2011.
The Board of Deputies has sent out 1,000 new campaign kits to assist grassroots activities in the run up to the elections. The aim is to encourage local communities and groups to unite to run local campaigning events. The kit contains posters, leaflets and balloons. A regional support network has been created alongside a campaign helpline.
The BNP claims it intends to put up candidates in every part of the UK.
Board of Deputies president Henry Grunwald said: "As a community, we need to unite to say no to the politics of hate and extremism wherever they may be. The unhappy reality is that the BNP is gaining momentum and may well be successful in the forthcoming elections. The Board of Deputies is doing everything it can to support local community groups in our collective fight against the BNP. We want communities to spread the word about the elections and the threat posed by the BNP. Every vote for a mainstream political party is a vote against extremism."
The BNP threat has seen the Rep Council begin a leafleting initiative to swell the Jewish vote and hinder BNP prospects. A call for residents to vote took place at the Yom Ha'atzmaut event on Tuesday night and synagogues are to join the appeal at Shabbat services in the coming weeks.
Rep Council president Sue Dorsey is clear on the organisation's viewpoint. She said: "Voting in the European elections helps the candidate of your choice get in and keep the BNP out. Every member eligible to vote must turn out on polling day."
Backing the initiative locally is Unite Against Fascism which is running a leafleting programme that takes in Chapeltown, Chapel Allerton, Moortown, Headingley and Beeston. A Love Music Hate Racism Festival takes place at the end of May.
Of major concern is the fact that should the BNP, which is standing candidates across the country, win a seat - and according to current polls up to four could gain success - nominees could help form a fascist block in the European Parliament.
Mick Hooson, of Leeds UAF chairman warned: "If the BNP wins a seat, it could speak on behalf of constituents in the media. The BNP would get more resources and could link up with European fascists to form a block. You need representatives from six countries to form a block and there are more than six that have elected fascists."
The BNP currently has no MEPs, but Mr Hooson is clear on the way ahead. He said: "The BNP has local councillors, but that is nothing compared to having an MEP and there is a serious danger it can win an MEP in the region as the far right vote has increased since the 2004 elections. The BNP can be stopped though as elections are proportional representation. So the more people that vote for mainstream parties makes it more difficult for BNP to secure a seat. We are not telling people who to vote for, but are telling people to get out and vote. A non-BNP vote makes it harder for the BNP to get elected. If people don't vote then they are increasing the likelihood of a fascist being elected."
Mr Hooson added: "The BNP wants to become a legitimate part of British politics. They do not want to be seen as a fringe party. They want to be taken seriously by the press. The BNP has grown from being an irrelevant fringe party to one that got 800,000 votes in the last Euro elections. If the BNP gains an MEP, it is a big step forward to legitimisation and a claim to be a mainstream party. The BNP does not want to be seen as a party of thugs or street fighters. They want to be mainstream and be seen as respectable."
He continued: "Mainstream parties know the BNP is not going away and we can stop it. The message is loud and clear. Vote for a mainstream party of your choice. Complacency is the biggest problem. The BNP has established a base in parts of West Yorkshire and there is not an appreciation of how close it is to getting an MEP or how significant it would be. The BNP is getting bigger votes than any British fascist party in history, bigger even than the British Union of Fascists prior to the Second World War."
The deadline for voter registration is 19th May.