British Jews are free from fear

I cannot stress enough that my government has a zero-tolerance approach to anti-Semitism.

london synagogue 88 (photo credit: )
london synagogue 88
(photo credit: )
I should like to register my strong disagreement with Prof Robert S. Wistrich's assertion that the UK has become the epicenter for anti-Semitic trends in Europe ("UK has become European center of anti-Semitism, historian says," April 1, 2008). The UK deeply values its strong and vibrant Jewish community. Indeed, I find it impossible to imagine a Britain without its Jewish community. For over 350 years now, the world of arts, science, literature, trade etc have all benefited from the invaluable contribution of Britain's Jewish community. As part of my preparations to come out to Israel as ambassador in the summer of 2006, I spent as much time as I could meeting members of that community. This was at the time that my country was celebrating the 350th anniversary of the re-establishment of the UK's Jewish community. If this community is relatively small in terms of numbers, it is strikingly impressive in terms of quality. I do not deny that Britain has been the scene of some worrying anti-Semitic incidents. As part of its response to the 2007 All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into anti-Semitism, my government pledged to step up action to eradicate anti-Semitism. The response forms part of a comprehensive cross-government strategy to tackle faith and race hate crime. I cannot stress enough that my government has a zero-tolerance approach to anti-Semitism. We are committed to tackling all forms of hate crime and racial intolerance wherever they exist. British Jews like all communities must be able to live their lives free from fear of verbal or physical attack. We have one of the strongest legal frameworks in the world for protecting people from discrimination or persecution on the basis of race or faith and this has been significantly tightened in recent years. The measures announced last year seek to improve recording and reporting of anti-Semitic incidents; review and strengthen the prosecution process; accelerate work to confront extremist groups who spread hate; promote community cohesion through education about different faiths and prevent any manifestation of racial or religious intolerance on university campuses. I should also like to highlight my government's efforts concerning Holocaust education. In February of this year, Schools Minister Jim Knight announced £4.65 million in extra funding to the Holocaust Educational trust to enable two pupils from every sixth form and college in the country to visit Auschwitz and learn about the Holocaust. Also at that time, Ed Balls, Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, put out a statement to "end once and for all to the myth that the Holocaust is not being taught in schools or is being removed from the curriculum." I understand that many people in Israel feel that their country gets an unfair press in the UK. I should explain that though the BBC receives some government funding, we cannot and would not want to dictate content. Britain, like Israel, prides itself on a free press. The BBC has been very critical of the British government over issues such as Iraq. In addition, I would like to point out that Prime Minister Gordon Brown has repeatedly expressed his commitment to the Middle East Peace Process, and paid tribute to the UK's Jewish community. For example by saying: "I commit that never again will the Jewish community have to fight anti-Semitism alone, the Jewish community do not cause anti-Semitism and it must not fall on them to have to defeat it." The writer is the British ambassador to Israel.