The First Word: The British Jewish agenda

When I last wrote in the pages of The Jerusalem Post ("Why must one shout, when a whisper can be heard?" June 7), it was of the importance of understa

By HENRY GRUNWALD
October 8, 2005 15:13

 
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When I last wrote in the pages of The Jerusalem Post ("Why must one shout, when a whisper can be heard?" June 7), it was of the importance of understanding and dialogue between Jewish communities of the Diaspora and, in turn, with Israel itself. However, following the London bombings of July 7, and the failed bombings of the 21st, the focus in the United Kingdom has been upon improving understanding and dialogue between faith communities. The Board of Deputies of British Jews has always placed great emphasis on this work, and we have recently appointed a dedicated interfaith officer to coordinate our community's interaction and relationships with other communities. As a result of improving dialogue with Church of England representatives, the board, working together with others involved in this area, has welcomed the decision of the church's Ethical Investments Advisory Group that there will be no divestment from companies that trade with Israel, notably Caterpillar. That company has been so often singled out due to the use of its machinery in security operations carried out by the IDF in the West Bank, despite all its equipment that is being used in building the infrastructure the Palestinian Authority so desperately needs. Another issue that has attracted much attention from the world's press is the suggestion that Holocaust Memorial Day, instituted in Britain in 2001 by a government-led initiative to ensure that the lessons of the Shoah are not forgotten, could be changed as part of efforts to calm some "disaffected" members of the Muslim community. This is a ludicrous and offensive suggestion. We have been assured by Downing Street and the Home Office that no such possibility exists. The government remains committed to the commemoration of the Holocaust, as unique in its nature and the darkest of all crimes against humanity. Since its inception, events to mark the day have looked not only at the horrors of the Shoah but also at what has happened more recently in places such as Rwanda, Kosovo and Bosnia. Holocaust Memorial Day can, and will, be an occasion for all to come together in the name of humanity. Readers of The Jerusalem Post should know that members of all faith communities in the UK, including some from Muslim communities, have worked together at both national and local HMD events. Those who set themselves apart from this important work merely shame themselves in the eyes of their own communities and the British public in general. THIS MESSAGE, the message of cross-communal and interfaith dialogue, is one of paramount importance and must be spread right across society nowhere more so than on campus. The issues surrounding anti-Semitism on campus and anti-Israel activity have long held the front pages of the Jewish domestic press in the UK, and indeed, in the case of the Association of University Teachers' proposed boycott of Israeli universities, grabbed the attention of the world's media. As the Campaign Group for Academic Freedom reiterated just last week, the issue was "debated, discredited and dismissed," yet those who seek to demonize Israel, with what can only be described as an illogical and irrational zeal, are once again attempting to impose sanctions upon Israeli academic institutions. They have regrouped and, as the academic year kicks off, have once again begun to preach their hate-filled point of view. Israel is rightly proud of its many academic achievements and of its freedom of education and expression. It does not deserve the vilification it all too often receives. As we have done before, we will do again, and the Board of Deputies will continue the struggle to protect the reputation of Israel in the academic arena. We will work with all those organizations active in this area as well as with individual professors, lecturers and students, both from within and without the Jewish community, who see this attack as irresponsible and dangerous. THERE IS also the continuing threat of extremism and anti-Semitism in student unions and university politics in the UK. Despite what we know to be the case, a recently published inquiry has apparently vindicated the National Union of Students of allowing anti-Semitism. This stands in sharp contrast to the report published this week by Prof. Anthony Glees of Brunel University, which warns of the rise in extremism on campuses, and gives testimony to the anti-Semitic activities of prominent groups. The indoctrination of the silent majority, the whipping up of mass hysteria and hatred toward minority groups, and the shrugged shoulders of those in authority act as a calling card to all. The community will stand up for the rights of our students. Zionism and support for Israel will not be allowed to be marginalized, while the board will work with the Union of Jewish Students and the Community Security Trust to force those who peddle prejudice and intolerance to the extremes of public opinion, where they belong. One university which has certainly seen this ugly amalgamation of Islamists and left-wing activists is the School of African and Oriental Studies at London University, commonly known by the acronym SOAS. The Board of Deputies has compiled a full and comprehensive dossier of the incidents that have taken place, leading to several questions being raised in the House of Commons on the issue and much media attention. Indeed a police investigation is exploring some of the issues raised. We hope that the new academic year will show that the authorities at SOAS have taken on board their own duty to prevent any repetition of such behavior. Above all, we place our faith in the students themselves. Their confidence, energy and enthusiasm are to be admired, and encouraged. They are on the front line of political debate, as well as at the cutting edge of interfaith relations, where the wider community can learn from their successes in making friends and allies. They are often referred to as the leaders of tomorrow. Please God they will be, but it is my strong feeling that they have a particularly important role to play as leaders of today. The writer is the president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the representative body of the British Jewish community.

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