Q&A with Jonny Paul

By
July 9, 2007 13:53
Q&A with Jonny Paul

london police raid 29888. (photo credit: AP)

 
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KF Wilson, Scotland: Why do you think anti-Semitism is on the rise in the UK and how can we put a stop to it? Jonny Paul: There are a number of reasons for this, I believe that on a macro-level racism is integral and intrinsic to British society and I don't think this will ever change. All minorities in Britain face racism, discrimination and intolerance. However today there is much more awareness at government level, especially with the formation of the Parliamentary Committee Against Anti-Semitism in 2005. The cross-party initiative did a formidable and comprehensive study into anti-Semitism and how to tackle it and in April the government published their response, along with practical measures to combat it. The Community Security Trust (CST), which ensures the safety and security of the Jewish community in the UK, does a formidable job working closely with the police and government to help reduce anti-Semitism. What worries me more is the ferocity of the anti-Israel attitudes and sentiments that stems from the far left and Islamists that is creating a climate of hate. This ultimately fuels anti-Semitism. Len Gossels, Tel Aviv: Can you give examples of how the war on terror, academic boycott and increased anti-Semitism in the UK have caused British Jews to change their thinking and approach? For instance, is it enough nowadays to invite Tony Blair and Gordon Brown to £200 a head dinners to seek to put our views across? Jonny Paul: Unfortunately the approach of the Jewish community establishment in the UK hasn't really changed in essence over the years. There is the thinking among community leaders that a 'softly, softly' approach works and that gentle persuasion behind the scenes will yield the required results. While this approach may have once worked, and there maybe occasions for behind the scenes diplomacy, it clearly does not work today. Members of the community are clearly not comfortable in the current climate, it's almost like we have to tip-toe around, backs against the wall and hope that problems just disappear with time. Baring in mind the contributions we make to wider society, this is not the way it should be. We also have a problem with the structure of communal organisations, the main part of which is self-appointed and unrepresentative, they then want to control proceedings and make sure everyone abides by their way of doing things. These factors are creating anger and frustration on the Jewish street hence numerous independent grass roots initiatives have sprung up. While I believe that a different approach to America is necessary, their way of working is much more hands on and results driven. Take for example the recent decision by the University College Union to implement a discussion aimed at a boycott of Israeli academic institutions, the boycott issue raised its head back in 2002 and was passed in 2005, in different forms, by the two academic unions that merged to form the UCU. Only at the end of last year did the community establish a body to work towards deflecting the calls for boycott. This should have been done years ago. Of late we are seeing an increase in the activities of the community with the launch of the new 'Stop the Boycott' campaign, however many are saying that it is too little, too late; we needed bolder statements and action a long time ago. Some are saying also that recent advertisements in the British broadsheets came after the ADL had done the same thing a week before and some say that we are now finding our voice only Alan Dershowitz got involved. Following the UCU boycott decision last month, it was Dershowitz who debated one of the instigators of the boycott motion on the UK's Channel Four flagship news programme and not a member of the British Jewish community. With regards to inviting leaders to fundraiser dinners, which I think you are alluding to, there is no problem with direct channels between community leaders and the powers that be, these events are generally to raise funds for community organisations/charities. Beni Rawet, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: Although all the threats of terrorism, people in London still have elected Ken Livingstone their mayor. Isn't this a contradiction? Jonny Paul: Livingstone has had a very volatile relationship with the Jewish community in the UK. He's said, and done, some bizarre things - his Nazi concentration camp jibe to a Jewish journalist two years ago that almost got him suspended from office and his obsession with Qatar-based Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi - who approves of suicide bombs in Israel. In a sermon in 2005, al-Qaradawi said: "Allah, harm your enemies, the enemies of Islam. Allah, harm the treacherous and aggressive Jews." However he has done some good things for London! He escaped a ban from office, as there are no real checks and balances in place and he gets away with saying and doing what he does. Annie Johnston, LA: Do you think Tony Blair as the new Mideast envoy can make a difference? Jonny Paul: I think Blair will have a huge impact as a Middle East envoy, he is a true friend to Israel and has an excellent understanding of the conflict and Middle East and I believe he has Israel's, and Middle East as a whole, interest at heart. Part of his remit will be to "help create viable and lasting government institutions representing all Palestinians, a robust economy and a climate of law and order for the Palestinian people". It will certainly be a challenge but I believe he posses enough goodwill in the eyes of the Palestinians, and has an excellent relationship with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, to be able to make a difference. KF Wilson, Scotland: Why do you think anti-Semitism is on the rise in the UK and how can we put a stop to it? There are a number of reasons for this, I believe that on a macro-level racism is integral and intrinsic to British society and I don't think this will ever change. All minorities in Britain face racism, discrimination and intolerance. However today there is much more awareness at government level, especially with the formation of the Parliamentary Committee Against Anti-Semitism in 2005. The cross-party initiative did a formidable and comprehensive study into anti-Semitism and how to tackle it and in April the government published their response, along with practical measures to combat it. The Community Security Trust (CST), who ensure the safety and security of the Jewish community in the UK, does a formidable job working closely with the police and government to help reduce anti-Semitism. What worries me more is the ferocity of the anti-Israel attitudes and sentiments that stems from the collusion of the far left and Islamists that is creating a climate of hate. This ultimately is fuelling anti-Semitism. Tom Hart, Toronto: I've always wondered why, such a class-conscious society, has allowed itself to be colonized by a foreign Muslim culture. So far there seems to be no reaction to the presence of more than a million Muslims and to the way this population is changing their culture. Have they given up to becoming an Islamic state one day? Is it apathy or something else? Is it the Left that is leading the country and welcoming possible voters? Why not a peep from the upper middle class? And a very important question, please: If they know first hand what it's like to live with a Muslim culture, why do you think they invariably turn against Israel? Jonny Paul: The Muslim community are an integral part of the fabric of British society and play their part in the make up of multi-cultural Britain. Most lead normal lives and strive for good relations between the communities. I believe the Jewish community has much in common with the Muslim community but relations between our communities are effected by the vitriol that stems from the far left and Islamists. Those who preach the idea of an Islamic state in the UK, or to recreate the Caliphate, are an extremist minority. There was a group called Al-Muhajiroun who preached this but they are now defunct following a ruling by Tony Blair to ban them in 2005. It certainly isn't the left leading the country, Tony Blair took the Labour party more to the centre, but there are remnants of the left are certainly stoking the fire as we have seen in the last week. Following the release of Alan Johnston, a couple of 'old' Labour MPs initiated a motion in parliament for the UK to begin talking to Hamas. Michael Burd, Melbourne: Why has the UK become the most anti-Israel country outside the Arab/Muslim world in the world; is it because of the large Muslim /Arab population or is it because old style anti-Semitism has never disappeared from the British nation? Jonny Paul: To an extent anti-Semitism has not disappeared but at street level Britain is fervently anti-Israel. This is due to a number of factors, which can also be attributed to the rise in anti-Semitic attitudes. The left are so fervently anti-American and anyone that is a part of their web. Most of the rhetoric stems from the far left, led by the Socialist Workers Party. There also seems to be an acceptance the Islamist narrative and analysis without question so Islamists end up providing the ideological lead for the 'resistance' to imperialism and Zionism is a part of it, they see it as evil imperialist ideology. I have no problem with constructive criticism of Israel, this is done in Israel's free press and Knesset on a daily basis. Obviously there's a problem when it's done with an agenda and with sinister motivations. The UK is a hotbed for anti-Israel activity and has lost any semblance of decent debate. I think it is going to take many years just to bring the debate back to the centre. Rafi Cohen, London: Do you think we will begin to see a mass Aliyah to Israel from the UK in the short-term future? Jonny Paul: Aliyah will of course will always be a reality and I believe it will increase, especially in the current climate where there doesn't seem to be much scholarly debate, understanding or semblance of a balance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and where Jews feel uncomfortable in an environment where their very essence and existence is questioned. Amnon Lieberman, Jerusalem: Tell us what you know about the new Foreign Secretary, Paul Miliband. Will he be both a proud Jew and a great Briton, or will he, as some evidence suggests in his criticisms of Israel and US-UK involvement in Iraq, be like the fictional character Fagin? Jonny Paul: David Miliband is not the most consistent when it comes to Israel and I expect he will be quite hard. Last week he acknowledged the "crucial role" Hamas played to release Alan Johnston. However he condemned the UCU decision to boycott Israeli academic institutions. In an article in last week's Jewish Chronicle, a national British weekly, he said there would be no contact with Palestinian rejectionists and frank engagement with Israel over the building of Jewish settlements which were "contrary to international law". As for Hamas, Miliband made it clear there would be no change of policy until it abided by the international community's demands (the 2006 Quartet Principles) that it renounces violence, recognise Israel and abide by previous agreements reached between the Palestinian Authority and Israel. Miliband also said the UK would support all on both sides of the divide who were committed to a peace. There would be an effort to provide economic and social development "across the occupied Palestinian territories". Curtis Desilets, Long Beach, CA: The suspects in Glasgow were of Palestinian origin. Why is the UK press AGAIN suppressing this key element? From AFP earlier today.... The suspects already in custody include the two men who rammed a Jeep Cherokee into Glasgow airport, along with a Jordanian surgeon named by officials in Amman as Mohammed Jamil Abdelkader Asha, and his wife. Asha is of Palestinian origin and carries a Jordanian passport, the officials said. He obtained his medical degree in Jordan." Jonny Paul: I was unaware of this but it is highly likely, given the large number of Palestinian Jordanians, that if Jordanians are involved, that they would originally be Palestinians. I'm not so sure that it was calculated in this instance. Gabor Frankl, Budapest, Hungary: What does the sheer fact that as far as I know you have never been invited - not once - to a regular program run by BBC World Service TV "Dateline London" every Sunday featuring the views and commentaries of foreign journalists stationed in London tell you about the credibility - if it has any left - of the British Broadcasting Corporation's objectivity regarding the Israeli/Palestinian issue? Jonny Paul: I haven't been invited to participate on Dateline London however I'm not too upset by this! They do have Israeli representation occasionally, for many years Sharon Sadeh, a friend and former correspondent for Haaretz, was a regular and was very good. These days Israeli journalist and academic Saul Zadka appears occasionally. Rens Wezelman, Utrecht: Do you gauge any real change in the general public's concept of Islamic terrorism? The reactions I read on the BBC are very much the stiff upper lip thing, but there seems also some real concern for the consequences of unbridled immigration. Does this translate in any way to more realism concerning Islamic terror? Jonny Paul: I don't see any real change at all in this conception; I think many just don't want to accept the reality even though it's right on our doorstep. Where there is agreement is that terrorism is in many ways a response to oppression/occupation and that Britain's foreign policy is also a cause. You had people from [London Mayor] Ken Livingstone, [Tony Blair's wife] Cherie Blair making comments that can be interpreted as having sympathy for suicide bombers and Jenny Tonge, who was removed from the Liberal Democrat Party for her comments sympathising with Palestinian suicide bombers. These sympathies seem to give credence to terrorism. Mladen Andrijasevic, Be'er Sheva, Israel: Now that five doctors have been linked to the terror plot, and luckily with no casualties on the British part, the question that arises is whether this is enough to make the British public realize that frustration, oppression and poverty are not the root causes of Islamic terror - that Jihadi ideology is. Will this injection of truth be sufficient to start the debate, or is Britain going to revert to a spate of anti Israel boycotts? Jonny Paul: Many do make this distinction and understand what the root cause of Islamic terror is. Last weeks attempted terrorist attacks, and indeed the 7/7 terror attacks, were instigated by people who did not lead downtrodden and oppressed lives. With regards to the boycott initiatives, it is gesture politics plain and simple. I think that we perhaps give it more attention then it deserves. The people in these unions have been there for years, they all know each other and work together. The boycott initiatives are a result of months of dedicated work - such is their disdain for Israel - and it's as if they've got nothing better to do. As the Conservative Party leader David Cameron said a few weeks ago when asked for his thoughts on the boycott: "I think what's disturbing about it, is it is something that is happening here in the UK and is something that has absolutely no justification because Israel is a democratic country and these Trotskyists [a reference to the radical Left who forefront the boycott campaign] are treating Israel as some sort of pariah state and that is completely wrong. "So I have no hesitation in saying yes it may be a bunch of lunatics but actually what they are doing is profoundly wrong, profoundly damaging and also I think sometimes attacks on Israel can spill over into anti-Semitism, to be frank about it. I think our mayor in this great city of London, I think sometimes he is guilty of that." Sarah Goodall, Tel Aviv: Is Britain's Agenda under Gordon Brown going to be different to that of Tony Blair? More empathy towards Arabs and the mythical Palestinians? Will this ultimately cause more anti-Semitism against Israel and the Jewish world? Will Gordon Brown's attitude ultimately be similar to that of Chamberlain's in the late 1930s just before the 2nd World War broke out? Is Gordon Brown going to be a second Chamberlain? Jonny Paul: I presume you mean agenda towards Israel. Tony Blair was a true friend to Israel and possesses a first-class understanding of Israel and I believe that Gordon Brown will similar. He actually has a much more natural affinity towards Israel, Brown's father was a Presbyterian minister and passionate supporter of Israel who had taken him to Israel at least twice a year for most of his adult years to show solidarity. Brown will be a critical and firm but also steadfast and honest, as he will with the Palestinians. Brown's attitude towards Hamas will not alter, he will remain committed to the Quartet Principles of January 2006. Brown's also will focus on economic progress as a means to alleviate conflict so one can expect some economic initiatives as incentives to further the peace process. I'm sorry but I don't share your views especially in a world where my right to self-determination is questioned, I certainly don't have the right to question the rights to self-determination of others. Eliza Elizavetta, New York: How can the Jewish community in Israel and abroad stop what has already happened in France from happening in England? I had recently visited both countries and experienced anti-Semitism in both countries from the Muslims there and the general population. I was very scared and further recognized what is happening in Europe in general by the Muslim populations. Jonny Paul: I believe the government is taking seriously the problem of anti-Semitism in this country. I don't see however that it necessarily stems from the Muslim community, of course there are some individuals and groups, such as the Muslim Public Affairs Committee UK who churn out vile and racist venom which does incite hatred, but anti-Semitism can emulate from any section of the community. Phil Morris, Ra'anana, Israel: How much has the anti-Israeli reporting style of the BBC contributed to the growing anti-Semitism in Britain? Jonny Paul: I would say it does nothing for creating a climate of understanding and tolerance. The BBC's reporting of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in my opinion is irresponsible. Joanne Silberstein, USA: Why have the non-Orthodox streams of Judaism in the UK not thrived as much as they have in the US? Jonny Paul: That is a very good question and I'm not sure I know the answer, while there is a strong Reform and Liberal movements here in the UK, it does seem that the United [modern orthodox] Synagogue is thriving. 'Tribe', their youth wing was set up in 2003 and had a target to have 10,000 members by 2010. I believe they reached this number in three years. Andrew, Manchester: Do you believe that, ultimately, British Jews are more loyal to Israel than to Britain? If so, do you not think that consequently, Jews will always be viewed as outsiders and the British public will be justified in being wary of a group of people who are not steadfast loyal citizens? Jonny Paul: I think British Jews are loyal citizens. It's that age old problem, prior to the emancipation period of Jews in Europe, many Jews were singled out as were seen as a nation with a nation. Following the French Revolution, Clermont-Tonnerre said: "We must refuse everything to the Jews as a nation and accord everything to Jews as individuals." Jews hence assimilated and became French Jews, German Jews as we see today. Then along came racial anti-Semitism at the end of the 18th century and Jews had nowhere to hide. I don't think British Jews are viewed as outsiders, I think they are an integral part of British society and they play a full role within it.

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