‘Jews do not have a future in England’

DIASPORA AFFAIRS: JNF UK Chairman Samuel Hayek tells ‘Post’ why antisemitism and lack of leadership could drive Britain’s Jewish community to Israel.

 JEWISH NATIONAL FUND UK Chairman Samuel Hayek: Antisemitism has gone up and up, and there is deafening silence.  (photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/MAARIV)
JEWISH NATIONAL FUND UK Chairman Samuel Hayek: Antisemitism has gone up and up, and there is deafening silence.

“The connection between Israel and Britain is not a symbolic connection, but a deep, practical friendship between political and security partners, who see eye-to-eye on most of the geopolitical issues that preoccupy our world,” tweeted Foreign Minister Yair Lapid earlier this week alongside a series of smiling photos of himself and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a diplomatic visit to London. 

Lapid thanked Johnson and his colleagues for recently proscribing all of Hamas as a terrorist organization, and for sharing Israel’s determination to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.

“Israel will always protect itself, but we know we are not alone,” Lapid concluded. 

These Twitter posts and the soundbites shared by Johnson and the foreign minister at an event held during Lapid’s visit by Conservative Friends of Israel, highlighted the strategic diplomatic ties between these two democracies.

But for many Jews living in England, the situation has become increasingly worrying, according to Jewish National Fund (JNF) UK Chairman Samuel Hayek – despite the deep ties between England and Israel.

The Union Jack, the flag of the United Kingdom. (credit: Rian Ree Saunders/Wikimedia Commons/JTA)The Union Jack, the flag of the United Kingdom. (credit: Rian Ree Saunders/Wikimedia Commons/JTA)

“Jews do not have a future in England,” Hayek told The Jerusalem Post this week from his Jaffa hotel. 

The native Israeli, who has been living in the UK for more than 40 years and became one of England’s top Jewish philanthropists, was in the country with a delegation of JNF UK donors and volunteers for the first time since the start of the coronavirus crisis. The group visited the organization’s existing projects mainly in the Negev and the Galilee, and also examined new opportunities.

They inaugurated the Elderly Home, a day center for the veteran residents of Sderot, took a tour of the Dekelim school for children with special needs in Beersheba, and visited Kiryat Malachi where JNF UK has supported a series of city renovations.

They also held a Hanukkah candle lighting ceremony with members of the Derech Eretz leadership program and new immigrants from the Gvahim non-profit organization that provides new immigrants with a network and tools to find employment in Israel.

According to Hayek, it is time for Jews to plan to leave the Britain – not because there would be another Holocaust, God forbid, he said but because “Jews who are unable to protect their assets, Jews being discriminated against badly is something that could quite easily happen – that is happening.”

The 2019 British election highlighted the challenges for Jews in the country, Hayek said, when it appeared for a brief window that Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn could win it – though ultimately the party suffered one of its worst general election results in living memory, losing dozens of seats to the Conservatives. 

In London, Corbyn’s antisemitism and his lack of apology for it were cited among the reasons for his defeat. But until nearly election day, Jews were on the edge of their seats in fear. 

“Let’s assume that Corbyn would have become prime minister,” Hayek said. “We all know our lives would have changed without recognition. We cannot even understand it fully.”

During the time, many Jews said that if Corbyn won they would leave England. But Hayek said thousands of Jews emigrating from the country would be much harder than it sounds.

“Is it easy to sell their businesses?” he asked. “Could they do it quickly? Where would they go? To South Africa, the United States, Canada – hopefully, Israel.” 

None of those questions ultimately had to be answered as Johnson took the win. Now, said Hayek, “Jews feel more comfortable that Corbyn did not win. But the underlying issues have not gone away.”

No doubt, antisemitism would have accelerated dramatically in England if Corbyn would have been prime minister. But antisemitism has been constantly rising anyway and is only expected to grow. 

One of the reasons is shifting demographics. The population of individuals who are anti-Jewish and anti-Israel, most significantly Muslim immigrants to the UK, is increasing and their influence on the government is too. 

The Muslim population in England has been growing consistently. An article published in the Telegraph in 2017 stated that the Muslim population could triple in the two decades and is likely to number around 13 million by 2050. 

There are only an estimated 290,000 to 370,000 Jews in England, according to the Institute for Jewish Policy Research.

“I am not against any minority or against the Muslims in the UK or Europe, but against anyone who spreads hatred that harms Jews,” Hayek said. “That is how I see the near future evolving.

“Anyone who tells us that Corbyn is not the prime minister and therefore antisemitism is gone, they don’t know what they are talking about,” he said. “It did not go away, it is growing. And it will not stop growing.”

THE STATISTICS backup Hayek.

A report published last month by the Community Security Trust (CST) found an increase in antisemitism in nearly all areas – including in political discourse and on college campuses.

Beyond the Labour Party, the report highlighted examples of antisemitism in the Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Scottish National parties. In 2019-2020, CST recorded the highest number of antisemitic incidents on campus in a single academic year – despite so much less time spent on campus due to COVID-19.

The organization said it recorded 58 incidents in the 2018-2019 school year versus 65 last year, including abusive behavior, swastikas and other antisemitic messages being graffitied on Jewish-owned property or property associated with the Jewish community, and even assault. 

“Whereas some institutions provided strong support to Jewish students, some universities failed in their duty to investigate and adjudicate complains about antisemitism fairly, objectively and quickly,” it said in the report. 

The May 2021 war between Hamas and Israel led to a record number of antisemitic incidents being recorded in the UK since 1984. CST said some 460 incidents were reported to the NGO between May 8 and June 7, with 316 happening offline and 144 online. 

During the war, the BBC interviewed a number of Jews who expressed fear of being outwardly Jewish. Rabbi Nicky Liss told the news outlet in an article leading up to the Shavuot holiday that he was nervous to walk 25 minutes from his home to a local synagogue to deliver a holiday address.

“This is the first time I’ve felt physically threatened,” he told the BBC. “I can’t believe that in 2021, I was thinking, was it safe for me to go on the street and walk to another synagogue to give a talk. It was incredibly worrying.”

One mother said that she took her son’s kippah off as they walked to a friend’s house for Shabbat lunch. 

Jewish day schools have guards at their entrances and barbed wire fences around them to ensure children’s safety. 

“From this we need to draw some conclusions,” Hayek said: “Where do we want our children to be?”

HE SAID THAT the situation is compounded by a leadership crisis in the Jewish world, including in England – leaders, Hayek feels, who are afraid to take action to protect their people. 

“Antisemitism has gone up and up and there is deafening silence,” he said. “Good leadership would go to the British government and say, ‘You are not doing enough to get us our protection.’

“You expect real leadership to gather the people, tell them what is happening and help them make plans,” Hayek continued. “Instead, they don’t want to make the government angry. They say, ‘Let us talk in private.’ The era of private talks is gone.”

He noted that antisemitism is growing not only in the UK but in many Western countries, including the US.

On Thursday morning, the Stop Jew Hatred nonprofit disseminated a new set of numbers via email from the FBI, showing that in 2020, 55% of all religiously motivated hate crimes were against Jews, who make up just 2% of the US population. 

One in every four American Jews has been targeted by antisemitism over the past year, the email read, and nearly four in 10 report changing their behavior for fear of being identified as Jewish or for their safety or comfort as Jews. 

One solution, Hayek said, would be for these Jews to consider aliyah. However, here too, he said that the Jewish state is not doing enough to help ensure a soft landing for British Jewry in Israel.

“You cannot come to Israel and have a successful absorption without learning Hebrew,” Hayek said. “So, maybe Israel needs to send many more envoys that go into Jewish families, go to Jewish schools and teach them Hebrew.”

There is also a housing crisis in Israel that has made the cost of buying prohibitive for many families. Hayek said the Israeli government should be working on a plan to provide cheaper housing for new immigrants. He suggested a program where more affluent Jews purchase properties and rent them to new immigrants at reduced cost. JNF UK has already invested some NIS 100 million in buying apartments and renting them at a discount to new olim.

Finally, he said, the COVID-19 crisis highlighted how Israel has become at least partially disconnected from its role of being a homeland and safe haven for all the Jewish people. The country shut its airports to foreigners, including Jews and even first-degree relatives of Jewish immigrants, to help keep the virus out of Israel. But Hayek said this sent the Diaspora the wrong message.

“During COVID, many Jews wanted to come here, and they did not have Israeli passports so they could not come,” Hayek said. “People were desperate in many places to have a vaccine. Israel was the first and so many people wanted to come and have a vaccine – and without an Israeli passport they could not come.” 

HOW LONG until the situation implodes? 

Hayek said that although he is not a prophet, one only has to look at France, where record levels of antisemitism have driven the community out, to predict. 

About a third of the French Jews who have moved to Israel since the country’s founding have done so in the last 10 years, according to data reported by the Jewish Agency to National Geographic in 2019. And aliyah from France was up by nearly 60% in the first half of 2020, compared to the same period in 2019. 

“What is happening in France today could happen in Britain in a few years,” Hayek said, noting that if one had said even 10 or 15 years ago that the Jews of France would be in the situation they are in today “no one would have believed you. But look how quickly it deteriorated.”

He said, “There is a crisis that is now being swept under the carpet. It won’t take too long to come out.”