An investigation led by an independent QC into Conservatives in Tory Chairman Oliver Dowden’s own constituency has led to reprimands against a number of councillors for their part in an election smear campaign.
A Jewish Labour candidate who felt “terrorised” by a stream of antisemitic abuse and death threats against him and his family has expressed relief that Conservative Party Central Office has found five of its councillors guilty of negative campaigning, inciting antisemitism and multiple breaches of the party code of conduct and Nolan principals of standards in public life.
Dr Dan Ozarow stood as a candidate in the Borehamwood Kenilworth ward by-election in Hertsmere for Labour in 2020. In the three days preceding the vote, the Conservatives delivered a smear letter from their candidate and eventual by-election winner, Brett Rosehill, implying that Dr Ozarow supported terrorist organisations, along with other misleading, untrue and unjustified claims.
Much of the national media coverage of the abuse at the time centred on a huge digital billboard at Elstree and Borehamwood station which beamed out an image of Ozarow with a headline insinuating that he supported terrorist group Hezbollah.
The billboard is owned by Conservative councillor Paul Morris and featured a mocked up headline on a fictitious newspaper called Hertsmere Times in order to make it seem as though it was real news. Morris’s defence that he did this in a personal capacity rather than his role as a Conservative councillor and that it had nothing to do with the Conservative Party was dismissed by the Panel as “disingenuous.”
The Panel also condemned the billboard posting as “unnecessary and vindictive” and a “clear example of negative campaigning in support of Conservative candidate Brett Rosehill.”
The Conservative Deputy Leader of Elstree and Borehamwood Town Council, Cllr Sandra Parnell, made the extraordinary and unfounded allegation to her social media followers that Dr Ozarow was “the worst antisemite.” Parnell was later forced to apologise publicly following an out of court settlement, while Cllr Rosehill’s wife had to remove another defamatory remark that she posted on a local Facebook group on election day.
Elsewhere on Facebook, Cllr Glenn Briski used an antisemitic stereotype to describe the Labour candidate and other Jewish left-leaning Labour members as being “self-hating, privileged middle-class people who can’t help but apologise for all their privilege.”
He suggested that Dr Ozarow belonged to groups he had never joined and agreed with a post demanding that the Labour candidate be “sent to Tehran”. The Panel also criticised Cllr Briski for making threats that the false allegations against Ozarow would be repeated on social media in the future, condemning it as “sinister.”
The social media firestorm that followed these smears was shocking. Dr Ozarow was told to “go to the gas chambers,” labelled a “Jew c**t,” and a “Nazi,” and told that he “lacked a Jewish soul’”, amongst dozens of examples of abuse and defamation targeted at him across social media.
Among the 104-page submission considered by Conservative Head Office were also threatening messages sent to his work email and a chilling anonymous message purportedly from a Conservative Party councillor warning that he “had to live with his past” and mentioning his and his wife’s unborn baby. Hertfordshire Police recorded several of these posts as “hate incidents”.
In the final stage of the Conservative Party complaints process, Co-Chairman, Ben Elliot, accepted the recommendations of a panel of Party members, led by independent QC Richard Price OBE which found that Councillors Brett Rosehill – who won the by-election – Glenn Briski and Paul Morris were “party to a personal campaign against the claimant in relation to the 2020 by-election, and which continued for many months.”
It also concluded that “this negative campaigning may well have encouraged others to send antisemitic posts or messages to the complainant.”
In delivering its verdict, the panel was also scathing about Cllr Morris Bright who, it concluded in his position as Hertsmere Borough Council Leader and Leader of the Conservative Group, should have “taken steps to rein in the activities of these councillors at an early stage”, given that he must “have been aware of the negative campaign activities.” The same judgment was also reached about former councillor and Hertsmere election agent, Jane West.
All five have received formal reprimands from Ben Elliot and ordered to attend training seminars organised by the Party.
On hearing the final conclusions, Dan Ozarow said: “After this two-year investigation, I am delighted that the terror that my family and I went through is finally over and that the Conservative Party has reached this verdict.”
Standing and winning in a 2021 by-election in the same ward, he continued: “I wanted to show people that I wasn’t going to be bullied away just for wanting to make my community a better place.”
He added: “I also wanted to prevent Hertsmere Conservatives from ever inciting such hate against anyone again. No one should have to suffer like my family and I did and it really saddened me to hear Jewish people from other parties telling me that they were too frightened to stand for election because of what happened.”
Dr Ozarow was elected in a by-election in May 2021 with a 12% swing from his Conservative rival. Several of those reprimanded by the panel fared badly in county council elections. Cllr West lost her Bushey North seat and Cllr Rosehill’s quest to hold Borehamwood South for the Tories was thwarted as they lost there for the first time in 20 years. Cllr Bright won his previously safe seat of Potters Bar West and Shenley, but on a massively reduced majority.
Dr Ozarow received support over the antisemitic abuse he suffered from a wide range of parties and civil society organisations. Labour’s former General Secretary Jennie Formby described the abuse in 2020 as “utterly disgraceful”, and originally demanded that the Conservatives punish those councillors responsible when she wrote to Conservative headquarters at the time.
In this context, the Tory Party’s decision to take very limited action against the councillors concerned seems unduly lenient.
A member of Hertsmere Labour Party expressed shock that the councillors who colluded in a horrendous campaign of antisemitic abuse received only reprimands. He said: “Five Tory councillors were found to have incited the antisemitic abuse that Dan suffered yet face no punishment from their national Party other than a slap on the wrist.”
He went on: “The Conservatives have spent the last few years lambasting Labour for supposedly not being tough on antisemitism. This suggests that they are playing Jewish people like a political football: being tough when it suits them, but doing nothing when those accused are Conservatives in Oliver Dowden’s own constituency association.”
Image: Dan Ozarow, c/o Dan Ozarow.
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