Anglo-Jews make the country tick, despite what Corbyn does

April 7, 2018 22:12
4 minute read.
Jeremy Corbyn

Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn leaves his home in London, Britain, April 2, 2018.. (photo credit: REUTERS / HANNAH MCKAY)


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Jeremy Corbyn must have grimaced when Sir Eric Pickles said (as The Jerusalem Post reported last month) that Britain would be diminished without its Jews. If Corbyn had been smart, he would have spoken out at once and said clearly that Jews have brought great benefit to Britain and neither the Labour Party nor anyone else wants the British Jewish com- munity to feel unwelcome, uncomfortable or unappreciated.

Maybe Corbyn might not have repeated verbatim Sir Eric Pickles’s comment that Jews “made the country tick.” But Corbyn has enough minders and speechwriters to find the words to say that antisemitism is both intolerable and bad for Britain, and neither antisemitism nor any form of racism has any place in British politics or society.

I lived in Britain for 15 years and liked it. I would be aghast to see the British people shooting themselves in the foot by making the Jews want to leave. Copying the European sin and stupidity of diminishing its civilization by eradicating its Jews is plain unthinkable.

When I arrived in London as a student in 1958, I saw first-hand what Jews had willingly contributed to British society. I studied Anglo-Jewish history and saw how the Middle Ages had tried ethnic cleansing by turning against the tiny Jewish group, but it did no good for Britain. Fortunately, by 1958 this episode had retreated into ancient history and no Britisher wanted to repeat it.

I saw what damage Mosley’s Fascists had done to Britain in the 1930s, and as minister of the Bayswater Synagogue in West London I led local agitation against a Mosleyite recrudescence in Paddington. Though a few fascistic last hurrahs made me take security precautions, the majority of London people were good-natured and sensible enough to say that the Jews were bet- ter value for Britain than the antisemites.

I saw that there was still pain after the severe problems at the end of the British Mandate for Palestine but Jews and gentiles had got over Bevin and these incidents, and in 1967 (I was by then the minister of the Hampstead Synagogue in northwest London) I appreciated the widespread grassroots British support for Israel.

WHY DO I think Pickles is right that – as against a recent poll indicating that 37% of British Jews now feel unsafe – Britain would be diminished without its Jews?

Not merely because Jewish names figure significantly in every area of British culture and achievement. The catalogue is impressive but I feel we should go deeper.

My criterion is based on the assessment of Professor Arthur L. Goodhart in a published 1957 lecture titled “Five Jewish Lawyers of the Common Law.” Goodhart analyzed and articulated the value of being a minority. I apply his words to the value of Britain’s Jewish minority.

He spoke of three advantages of a minority: It has a questioning spirit; it encourages a spirit of moral courage; and it has an adventurous spirit, willing to hold and apply new ideas, new ways and new techniques.

All three have been brought by Jews to enrich the quality of British society. Though Britain is a small country, it has become greater because of these and other contributions of its Jews. No one with any sense fails to benefit from what Jews have given to every sector of British society.

If I may be permitted another personal remark, let me recall that when I was elected president of the Israel Region of the RCA (Rabbinical Council of America) I whimsically stated that the “A” in “RCA”’ was not only America but also Anglia and Australia. In fact all the English-speaking communities (including South Africa, Canada and others) have a tradition of community service of this kind.

True, not every Britisher agrees with every political development in Israel. Neither does every Israeli. Not every British Jew is a paragon of good citizenship. Neither is every non-Jew.

Not every British voter supports Corbyn’s Labour Party. The voters elect whomever they choose. But regardless of politics, it’s British to be tolerant and non-racist. Corbyn needs to show – in actions as well as words – that he and his supporters are part of the tolerant, non-racist British tradition, and that Britain has no place for antisemitism.

A few words have to be added about Anglos who have immigrated to Israel: Their motivation has historically been highly positive; they have come to Israel for Jewish ideological reasons, not in flight from persecution. If British Jews choose Israel, let it be from love of Israel, not fear of Britain.

They will of course bring with them to Israel and enhance it with a whole array of items from the Anglo ethos – efficient administration, representative government, cabinet responsibility, punctuality, urbanity, civility and manners.

The author is president of the Rabbinical Council of America Israel Region. He is emeritus rabbi of the Great Synagogue Sydney.

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