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Britain’s Jews are not them – they are us.

December 12, 2019

Replica of the Temple menorah

As we in the UK reach the end of a poisonous General Election campaign, one of the distressing themes has been anti-Semitism. If there’s a single factor that has helped bring anti-Semitic sentiment to the surface over the past few years it’s been the social media.

Like other forms of racism, anti-Semitism has always been there on the fringes of our society. Every so often it rears its ugly head when people feel emboldened to reveal their hidden thoughts. It happened in the 1930s with the rise of the Blackshirts, and it’s happening now as it seeps out from the dark corners of the internet.

If I could tweak the algorithms of the social media to accentuate the positive, the inspiring and life-enhancing rather than the negative, divisive and angry, I know exactly how I would combat anti-Semitism.

I would give prominence to those who focus on Jews as people, and who celebrate their achievements and their contribution to civilisation.

I claim no expertise in the field, but I think I understand the reasons for anti-Semitism. Fear of the other, jealousy, suspicions about divided loyalties and centuries-old conspiracy theories about cabals of bankers and politicians who seek global domination by non-military means. Above all, the need for a scapegoat to blame for whatever troubles are besetting the society of the day.

The existence of the State of Israel has provided additional fuel to anti-Semitic sentiment both in countries that played a role in its creation, Britain and the United States for example, and those that didn’t.

I’ve written plenty of words in appreciation of the Arab world, its people, its cultures and its heritage. Less so about the Jewish world, which is everywhere and, until the creation of Israel, nowhere in a majority – hence its vulnerability to prejudice and persecution.

As someone who lived for many years in a Muslim country, perhaps I’ve held back for fear of upsetting my many Arab friends, some of whom blame Israel for all the problems of the Middle East since 1948. Skirting an issue is always easier than challenging prejudice.

So at the risk of losing a few friends, here’s how I feel about my fellow citizens who happen to be Jewish. As a community held together by religion and ancestry, Britain’s Jews have been a disproportionate force for good. Disproportionately talented and hard-working. An integral part of my country’s culture. Outstanding contributors to science, business, academia, the arts and literature.

Instead of reviling them and making them feel the need to have a suitcase packed by the front door, we should be thankful for their contribution to society, and we should welcome more to our midst.

Equally importantly, they are not them. They are us.

So I would ask those of us who spew hatred upon our fellow-citizens on racial grounds, how can it be morally justifiable to speak for “the white race”, regardless of nationality, if we vilify Jews for a fellow-feeling towards Jews beyond national boundaries? And equally, how can we condemn Muslims for their celebration of the umma – the worldwide Muslim community?

What’s more, for those whose hate is based on a person’s religion, how many of us in Britain have EVER felt threatened by the outward signs of Jewish religious observance, or by the rituals and customs themselves?

Nothing I am writing here diminishes my respect for the customs and traditions of other religions, including Islam. Nor does it diminish my profound disquiet that over the decades since the Oslo agreement, the State of Israel has failed to take opportunities to resolve a conflict with Palestine that aside from political considerations has become a multi-generational blood feud.

But to suggest that the Jews of Britain or any other country slavishly support the actions of Israel – good or bad – is an insult to the culture that has enabled Jewish communities to produce outstanding minds. And to suggest that British Jews are divided in their loyalties between Britain and Israel is an insult to those who fought and died for our country, and to whose energy and inventiveness have done so much to enhance our lives in so many ways.

Fifty years ago, when I was a teenager, for the vast majority in our society the fact that a person, famous or not, was Jewish was neither important nor noteworthy. Their patriotism was never questioned. They were just British people who happened to be Jewish.

I wish we could return to that state today, even though that seems unlikely given the way that modern society has fragmented into a hundred identities over which we endlessly obsess and argue.

On this Election Day, whoever wins or loses, instead of being anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, anti-immigration and anti- a thousand other things that we blame for the lack of perfection in our lives, let’s try and celebrate the things we’re for – the positive things and the positive people who do so much to make our existence at least good in parts.

If that sounds unduly pious, I write this partly as a reminder to myself, since I am one of those who has struggled over the past three years to see the positives in an era of Taking Back Control and American Carnage.

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