This month marks 69 years since the State of Israel passed the “Law of Return,” giving the right to every Jew to come to Israel as an immigrant.
How significant it is that this law emerged in the aftermath of the Holocaust, especially as we came to comprehend that six million Jews were massacred – not only because of Hitler and his barbaric acts, but because of the many countries that barred their gates to Jews trying to escape Europe at a time when it was still possible for them to hope for refuge elsewhere.
A Jewish Agency shaliach serving in the United Kingdom in the 1970s spoke words that resonate with me to this day. He told the Aviv (young) section of British WIZO, “We lost six million Jews not simply because of Hitler but also because of the passive collaboration of the free world.” The countries that closed their gates share responsibility for the horrific annihilation of two-thirds of European Jewry.
I strongly believe that the 1947 United Nations resolution facilitating the rebirth of the State of Israel) would not have passed without the votes of those very countries who had prevented the entry of Jews wishing to escape the Nazi onslaught. Their justifiable guilt resulted in their voting for what became known as the Partition Plan. The Balfour Declaration was formulated in 1917, but the vote for a Jewish State took 30 years to materialize – only after the murder of six million of our brethren.
September marks 80 years since UK prime minister Neville Chamberlain declared war on Germany. Antisemitism is unacceptable wherever it rears its ugly head, particularly in Germany where the government’s commissioner on antisemitism suggests that Jews should avoid wearing kippot in public due to the increase in anti-Jewish attacks in the country. The upsurge in antisemitic acts, coupled with the resignation of the head of Berlin’s Jewish Museum over tweets endorsing BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel), raises questions about a Jewish future in Germany.
BDS WAS born in 2001 at the outrageously misnamed “United Nations Conference against Racism” – a conference in Durban, South Africa, whose prime objective was demonizing Israel as a racist state. It was a conference where Uri Davis (a Jewish academic with degrees from the Hebrew University who converted to Islam in 2008 upon marrying a Palestinian woman) distributed his book Israel the Apartheid State. From the Palestinian perspective, what could be better than a Jew – born in Jerusalem – badmouthing Israel at an international gathering that turned out to be the best platform that Davis could wish for.
While I had the privilege of leading the WIZO delegation to the Non-Governmental Conference as well as the Governmental one that followed, it certainly was no pleasure. Prior to departure for Durban I had endeavored to obtain hasbara materials from Israel’s Foreign Office; the only response I had was that the government delegation would bring materials with them on arrival. The result was that the Jewish NGOs arrived in Durban inadequately prepared for the orchestrated antisemitic onslaught. The likes of Uri Davis plus the Neturei Karta – the so-called ultra-religious group that took to the streets on Shabbat to condemn Israel – were gifts to Israel’s enemies whose message of hate prevailed.
Some 18 years on, our government still has not recognized the need for a Ministry of Hasbara. Especially shocking at a time when support for Israel, even among Jews, is on the wane, is that members of the Foreign Office staff feel the need to go on strike because of the severe cuts in their funding. How can we fight the increasing hatred against Israel and the Jewish people in such a situation? Of particular note is today’s Jewish student on campus, who often arrives with an inadequate knowledge of Israel’s just case, resulting in a vulnerability to the Palestinian-crafted false narrative. Israeli embassies worldwide should be a source of support, especially for students who often find themselves in the forefront of the battle against BDS.
Sadly, as was the case in Durban, our enemies are supported by misinformed Israelis and Jews ready to take on the anti-Israel mantle. Such was the experience of UK journalist Melanie Phillips and former Knesset member Einat Wilf who participated in a London-based Intelligence Squared debate. Phillips and Wilf were the proponents of the motion “Anti-Zionism is antisemitism.”Opposing the motion were Al Jazeera journalist Mehdi Hasan and Israeli anti-Zionist academic Ilan Pappe from Exeter University. Perhaps Phillips’s most disturbing observation was how the audience of 980 refused to believe her factual statements relating to the lengths Israel goes to avoid death and injury of the enemy even in the midst of battle; she spoke, too, of the Israeli Arabs who enjoy full equality. Both of these statements were met with derisive laughter by the audience, which Phillips interpreted as non-belief of her statements.
WILL DIASPORA Jews leave their homes to come to Israel as a consequence of today’s unprecedented antisemitism? In the UK, Labour Party head Jeremy Corbyn may soon be elected prime minister, despite the fact that his party is being investigated for antisemitism by the Equality and Human Rights Commission. Will this increase the pace of Britain’s Jews making aliyah? A number of our UK-based friends have told us that if Corbyn is “in” then they are “out.” Only time will give us the answer.
The good news is that today we are blessed with a Jewish state with a Law of Return, whose gates are open to every Jew – whether seeking refuge or simply wanting to come home.
We made aliyah from the UK 21 years ago. When asked what we like best about living here, we respond, “We feel at home because it is home.” As American poet Robert Frost said, “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.”
The writer is public relations chair of ESRA, which promotes integration into Israeli society.