Pro-Israel Elaina has no problem meeting Taliban

THE Birmingham prospective Labour council candidate who claims that she was discouraged from standing in a predominantly Muslim ward because she was white and Jewish could not have bent over more backwards to try to understand the Islamic community.

Elaina Cohen's colourful political journey began when, a WIZO member, she was living in the Tory "bubble" of South Manchester's leafy Bowdon.

Manchester-born Elaina (nee Fletcher) began her working life as a journalist for local newspapers and hospital radio.

During her journalistic days, she built up a long stream of connections while using the power of her pen to campaign for causes in which she believed.

Then came marriage and motherhood and the move to Bowdon, which had occurred, she said, after she and her ex-husband were gazumped while trying to purchase a property in the suburb of Whitefield.

For some time Elaina gave up her career and immersed herself in Darom and New Jerusalem WIZO until she decided to return to work, at first part-time, as a public relations officer.

But she missed the power of the press.

She said: "Working in newspapers gives one a moral compass which can be used as an outlet for campaigning causes.

"I believe politics and journalism are the same vehicle to get things done. If I was not writing, I thought I would try politics to get my own voice."

She emphasised: "Politics can be used correctly."

Living in Bowdon, the Conservative Party felt like her natural home. Working in PR for Nynex and Trafford Borough Council, Elaina had built on her connections who encouraged her to stand for the Conservatives.

But when she lost the Rochdale council election for which she stood as a Tory candidate, Elaina decided to familiarise herself more thoroughly with Rochdale's large Kashmiri population.

She said: "I was never going to win Rochdale because there was no Tory base. But there was a huge Kashmiri population - one of the largest in Britain.

"They had a significant impact on the vote.

"I needed to understand them. As I went into the community pre-9/11, I was quite shocked how isolated this Muslim community was with its separate religion and culture."

Even during her journalistic days, Elaina had always found herself "working outside boundaries".

She said: "I never saw colour or religion. I always felt very comfortable with other communities."

She added: "I was the only member of the Middleton Guardian team to cover the Pope's visit to Manchester's Heaton Park. It just seemed natural for me to be working alongside Irish Catholics."

In Rochdale, Elaina became fascinated by the Kashmiri Muslims.

She said: "They reminded me of my own upbringing in the-then Jewish area of Cheetham Hill. They also came from an aspirational, immigrant community who wanted the best for their children. They reminded me of my grandparents."

Now regarding herself as then "politically nave", Elaina thought that this "corner shop" community were "natural Tory voters".

With the consent of Tory leader William Hague, she decided to visit Pakistan to find out more.

Thus began a fascination with the country which has continued to this day, as she still finds herself frequently jetting off in that direction on parliamentary business.

And the WIZO member claims that her Jewish identity and her Zionist credentials have never proved a barrier even when meeting the most right-wing of Muslims, including members of the Taliban and imams of right-wing madrasas.

She says: "I am still a strong Zionist. I defend Israel wherever I go, often in the most unusual of circumstances.

"On every visit to Pakistan I have the same debate. I have huge arguments but they respect me as a Jew."

And it was in her beloved Pakistan that Elaina met the man who changed her life - Birmingham Muslim MP Khalid Mahmood.

It was Khalid who encouraged her not only to defect to the Labour Party, which she now claims is the only party working for an equal society, but he was also the reason for her move to Birmingham.

She later became divorced from her husband.

The nature of Elaina's relationship with Khalid has given rise to much speculation, but the reality is that she still works as his special adviser, active specifically with local ethnic communities as well as her frequent trips to Pakistan on human rights issues.

With such a pro-Islamic background, she was therefore totally devastated when, she claims, she was told by former Birmingham Lord Mayor Councillor Mahmood Hussain that she should not stand as Labour candidate in East Handsworth and Lozells because constituents would not vote for her because she was "white and Jewish".

Fuming at the remarks, which were witnessed by a colleague as they came through her car speakerphone, she complained to Birmingham City Council and to the Labour Party and was furious when the former did not uphold her complaint.

Describing the alleged remarks as tantamount to imposing political apartheid in Britain, Elaina is worried about the direction in which Britain is going.

Yet she refuses to relinquish her many Muslim links, claiming that the alleged remarks were made by a "bigot" who is not representative of most of his fellow Muslims.

© 2009 Jewish Telegraph