THE BRITISH Jewish community is a study in contrasts. In a country of 64 million people, there are fewer than 300,000 Jews ‒ down from a peak of 420,000 in 1955. The rate of intermarriage is running at roughly 50 percent. About half of all British Jews are over age 40.Yet, Jews have never been more a part of Britain’s multicultural tapestry. There have never been more Jewish schools or kosher eateries in London or more yarmulkes seen on its streets. JW3, the UK’s first ever American-style Jewish community center, has been a popular hub of cultural activity since opening its doors in 2013.
Religiously, however, only the ultra-Orthodox (Haredim) are thriving. Mainstream Orthodoxy is struggling. Prospects are no less limited for Masorti, Reform and Liberal Judaism. Yet, vibrant and regular services for all the streams are the norm.The growing influence of Britain’s estimated three million Muslims has raised an acute challenge. Almost half of these hold unfavorable attitudes toward Jews, according to a 2015 report by the Institute for Jewish Policy Research. It also found that a preponderance of those making negative statements about Jewish people tended to hold left-wing or Muslim extremist political views.The all-volunteer British Campaign against anti-Semitism identified 1,000 hate crimes against Jews last year ‒ a 25 percent increase over 2014. All told, six million British adults harbor anti-Semitic attitudes, according to a 2015 Anti-Defamation League survey.Lately, and conspicuously, the tone of anti-Israel rhetoric by Labour Party notables has left many in the British Jewish community feeling that the seam line between anti-Israelism and anti-Semitism is becoming ever more frayed. For instance: Afzal Khan, a Labour Party member of the European Parliament recently tweeted: “The Israeli government is acting like Nazis in Gaza.”Tony Greenstein, a Brighton socialist, tweeted: “I do want 2 offend Zios because they r racists justify apartheid in name of self-determination 4 Jews.”The shadow secretary of state for international development, Diane Abbott, insisted that there is a “smear against ordinary party members” in the suggestion “that the British Labour Party has a problem with anti-Semitism.”Giles Fraser, writing in the left-leaning Guardian, argued that since there are Haredim who are openly anti-Zionist it is unwarranted to associate anti-Zionism with hatred of Jews.Scores of progressive Jewish student leaders recently came to the defense of anti-Zionist activist Malia Bouattia, after she was elected head of the National Union of Students, on the grounds that she has been the victim of an “Islamophobic campaign.”Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn, himself a committed anti-Zionist (see The Jerusalem Report, “Belabored Relations,” November 30, 2015), has formed a committee headed by Shami Chakrabarti to study racism and anti-Semitism in his party. In parallel with her appointment, Chakrabarti joined Labour. She says she has never taken a public stand “about Israel-Palestine.” She did, though, campaign for the release of a British-Pakistani Islamist held at Guantanamo Bay on terrorism charges.Some party members have reportedly been suspended for crossing the line between hatred of Israel and hatred of Jews. And, on May 7, London elected its first Muslim mayor, Sadiq Khan, who has associated with militant anti-Zionists and anti- Semites and has worked to get the UK to lift its ban on Louis Farrakhan, leader of the American Nation of Islam group. Khan campaigned as a moderate and after his election there was talk of his leading a trade delegation to Israel.In this combustible environment, The Jerusalem Report asked six British Jewish leaders and public intellectuals to help make sense of British attitudes – particularly on the Left ‒ toward Jews and Israel.Follow Elliot Jager on Twitter at #JagerFile