The first word: Stop whispering

Message to the British Jewish leadership - get tough, go activist.

uk rabbi sacks 88 (photo credit: )
uk rabbi sacks 88
(photo credit: )
Anglo-Jewry can take pride in its exemplary contribution to world Jewry and Zionism. From Moses Montefiore's interventions during the Damascus blood libel, to the Balfour Declaration, through to the Soviet Jewry protest movement, British Jews played an important role. The contribution of British immigrants to Israeli society also sheds luster on Anglo-Jewry. But Anglo-Jewry is in decline. From a community in excess of 400,000 at the end of the Second World War, it has shrunk to roughly 280,000 and while reliable statistics are unavailable, it is almost certain that the intermarriage rate at least matches the 50 percent level in the United States. Parallel with this over the past few years, anti-Semitism, which had been in remission for 40 years, has dramatically revived. Violent acts against Jews are soaring, with 532 incidents recorded last year - a 42% increase from 2003. In many respects Jews are now regarded as pariahs, like their antecedents in the 1930s. While many Anglo-Jews insist that anti-Semitism is primarily a product of Muslim immigrants, the reality - as recently confirmed in a London police study - is that the core of anti-Semitism in England emanates from indigenous Britons. They are the ones demonizing Israel in the media. They shamelessly create Nazi-style caricatures like the one published by the Independent newspaper which portrayed Ariel Sharon as an ogre physically devouring Palestinian children. That obscene cartoon was awarded first prize as the best political cartoon of the year. It is "white" British academics, not Muslim immigrants, who promote anti-Israeli boycotts and divestment campaigns. And, needless to say, the BBC which has evolved into one of the greatest global agents demonizing Israel is not run by Muslims. IT IS therefore unfortunate that many Anglo-Jewish leaders and opinion makers bury their heads in the sand, denying that they are undergoing a real crisis. One Jewish journalist even went so far as to observe that "there are no pogroms in the high street, no concentration camps in the parks, and no crematoria in the shires." Is that the benchmark for anti-Semitism in the year 2005? At the outset of the intifada, the Anglo-Jewish establishment bitterly opposed demonstrations, insisting that they would be poorly attended and counterproductive. They were subsequently stunned when, in response to spontaneous pressure from the street, rallies took place at which large numbers of Jews gathered to express their solidarity with Israel. In contrast to their American counterparts, most Anglo-Jewish leaders fail to appreciate that the traditional approach based on shtadlanut which they now refer to as "silent diplomacy" is today simply ineffective. Henry Grunwald, president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, epitomizes this less than heroic stance when he proclaims that demonstrations are not necessarily the appropriate course to adopt in Britain, and that the "softly softly" approach can usually achieve better results. He even pleads "why must one shout when a whisper can be heard?" I would respectfully suggest that in this day and age such an approach emboldens those who seek to transform us into a pariah community. More importantly, it dissuades Jewish youngsters living in a hostile environment from defending themselves in public confrontations against those defaming them. Instead, they are encouraged to behave like "trembling Israelites," grateful for "protection," and conscious above all that they must not rock the boat. I DO not make these observations as an armchair diplomat. I headed the Australian Jewish community for many years and our leadership successfully transformed the prewar Jewish image in Australia from one of inferiority and subservience to one of pride and dignity. It is not coincidental that Australia today stands at the forefront of nations in which there is a broad bipartisan political support for Israel, and a genuine sensitivity to the requirements of its Jewish community. This could never have been achieved had our Jewish leadership relied primarily on silent diplomacy and not adopted what critics frequently condemned as an "ugly" and tough lobbying approach. The situation in Britain is rapidly worsening. Prior to the July 7 London Underground bombings, Muslim clerics were publicly calling for pogroms against Jews. Yet instead of publicly demonstrating and demanding action, all Anglo-Jewish leaders would do was to mutter concern. The atmosphere at universities is awful and it is surely a sad reflection of the times when Grunwald proclaims it a great victory when the boycott by the Association of University Teachers was narrowly reversed. The fact that such an obscene act could ever have been endorsed by university teachers in the first place is glossed over. The same applies to the Church. Here once more, Grunwald publicly expresses relief that as "a result of improving dialogue with the Church of England," the Church's Ethical Investment Advisory Group will now not boycott Caterpillar for trading with Israel. What a grand achievement that is! The Anglo-Muslim leadership has the chutzpah to call for the abolition of Holocaust Memorial Day. What does the Board of Deputies do? It initiates a press campaign stressing that Holocaust Memorial Day is no longer exclusively devoted to the European genocide of the Jewish people but also "covers Cambodia, Rwanda, the Balkans and elsewhere." It is a sad state of affairs when Jewish leaders themselves trivialize the uniqueness of the Holocaust by bracketing it with general human rights abuses. London Mayor Ken Livingstone, who has now assumed the role of a 21st-century Oswald Mosley, continues his anti-Israel and anti-Jewish outbursts unabated. But there are no protests outside the mayor's office. Is it any wonder in such a passive environment that Livingstone's anti-Jewish rhetoric becomes even more offensive? This in an environment in which opinion polls confirm that the vast majority of British citizens support Livingstone, and regard Israel as a greater threat to world peace than North Korea or Iran. British Jewish leaders should say it as it is and not confuse the issue by babbling about progress being achieved in interfaith relations. Everyone agrees that like motherhood and apple pie, dialogue with decent Muslims is good. But we should be under no illusions. The vast majority of Muslims either support the extremists or are intimidated to such an extent that they would never stand up and be counted. IT SO happens that Prime Minister Tony Blair is a genuine friend of the Jewish people. All the more reason why the leadership should stop pretending the situation is tolerable. They should speak up and fight more aggressively against the peddlers of hatred. They should concentrate more on public action rather than relying so heavily on "silent diplomacy." They should exploit the not inconsiderable power of the Anglo-Jewish community to influence friends and allies. They should heed the recent comment of Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks, a man not prone to exaggeration, who stated that "there have been times for the first time in my memory when it has been uncomfortable to be a Jew in Britain." If Jews will not fight back, they will soon have to ask themselves: Is this the sort of society in which our children and grandchildren are going to live? If they are unable to come to terms with such a future, perhaps they should consider encouraging their children to make aliya. The writer chairs the Diaspora-Israel relations committee of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, and is a veteran international Jewish leader.