British Jews: ‘What if?’ – yet no exit strategies

Anti-Semitism impacts Jewish communal life, but for now Britain is not France.

A woman holds a Union flag umbrella in front of the Big Ben clock tower (R) and the Houses of Parliament in London (photo credit: REUTERS)
A woman holds a Union flag umbrella in front of the Big Ben clock tower (R) and the Houses of Parliament in London
(photo credit: REUTERS)
This year’s Community Security Trust report on anti-Semitism, the worst since records began in 1984, will fuel existing fears about the future of European Jews, in this case, British Jews.
For some, especially in Israel, the report for 2014 will further confirm the futility of Diaspora life – in Europe at least. Their narrative is already written. For them, Europe will forever be defined by the Holocaust, the culmination of nearly 2,000 years of anti-Semitism but by no means its end point, as shown by rising anti-Semitism, borne upon feverish hatred of Israel that can only be rationalized by Europe’s own anti-Semitic past.
Others will vehemently disagree.
They, too, have a prewritten narrative. For them, Israel is to blame, because each significant surge of anti-Semitism comes at each of Israel’s wars. Israel is to blame for the wars, its conduct and the ensuing anti-Semitism. It is Israel that always ties itself with Jews, and then Europe’s Jewish leaders always back that message.
Yes, anti-Semitism is wrong, but anti-Zionism is vital, and will actually save Jews – from themselves.
These two very brief summaries are intended to illustrate the range of opinion about the causes and cures of modern-day European anti-Semitism. They also obscure the fact that European anti-Semitism varies widely in its drivers and contexts. Western Europe is very different from Eastern Europe.
Hungary is not the Ukraine. Greece is different from both, and all three are entirely divergent from France and Belgium. Britain has some similarities with its cross-Channel neighbors but also important distinctions – notably the intensity of Muslim alienation from the mainstream, and the role of anti-Semitism within that dynamic.
Having said all of the above, what of Britain? Today’s figures bring us back to last summer’s surge of anti-Semitism, which has since subsided, but the terrorist attack on the kosher store in Paris again made anti-Semitism and Jewish concerns a dominant theme in recent UK politics and media.
The Jewish community’s reaction to Paris has thrown us back to where we were by the end of the summer: a community that is largely very nervous and feeling under scrutiny and pressure, knowing that we are to an extent at the mercy of events beyond our control, but doubly determined to do what we can to defend ourselves and our rights.
These pressures have built steadily since 2000, never able to properly subside, because of the regularity and intensity of each wave of anti-Semitic and anti-Israel hatred. All of which is, of course, horribly punctuated by the sight of anti-Jewish terrorist attacks.
The question of Jewish feelings of safety, security, belonging and future is featuring in many Friday night dinner conversations right now, but it is important to state that this overwhelmingly remains a question of “What if?” rather than a serious examination of exit strategies. The emigration question is fundamental to understanding how anti-Semitism and related phenomena, such as anti-Israel hatred, are actually impacting Jewish communal life, but for now at least Britain is not France.
All of this occurs after over a decade of serious UK Jewish communal regeneration and pride.
New Jewish schools, synagogues, cultural centers and events such as the Limmud learning conferences are all testament to proper growth and confidence.
Anti-Semitism certainly exists, but it is not the defining factor in British Jewish life, and CST is determined to keep it that way.
We will continue working in the closest possible partnership with our community, government and police, in order to keep delivering the best possible security in these challenging and dangerous times.
Mark Gardner serves as the director of communications at CST.