As we continue to learn lessons from and deal with the aftermath of Operation Protective Edge in the UK Jewish community, I thought it would be timely to update on some of the meetings and activities that we have undertaken over the last couple of months.
Firstly, what is it that the JLC and its members are trying to achieve?
What are the aims and objectives?
We have identified three main objectives of what has become a concerted programme of activity.
1. To make a case for Israel as a democratic state with the same rights as other nations to defend itself against its enemies. That Israel is central to the lives of millions of Jews around the world, including here in the UK
2. To blunt the messages of the BDS movement and to push back and resist attempts to weaken Jewish identification with Israel
3. To fight anti-Semitism and highlight the positive elements of being Jewish in Britain
Meetings arising from Operation Protective Edge
Since issues arose over the summer, the JLC, along with the Board of Deputies and other member organisations, has held a number of meetings to address the problems and to try and avoid a repetition in the future.
The protests outside and around major retailers were a huge issue over the summer. We have raised our concerns with the Police and Minsters, as we shall explain later. But we also wanted to take our concerns to retailers directly. The JLC and BoD met with Senior Directors of Sainsbury’s who reiterated that Sainsbury’s is non-political, that they will continue to ensure the safety of customers and staff and have briefed staff on their rights to call the Police in the event of violence or threats and that they have no intention of changing their policy on sourcing and labelling of products. We also met the British Retail Consortium to express our concerns about the targeting of retailers in general and have a continuing dialogue with them.
In terms of broadcasters, The JLC and BOD, together with CST, expressed our concerns directly to the BBC about those areas of the BBC’s coverage of Operation Protective Edge which had, in our view, breached their editorial guidelines. Our points were taken on board, although there is still work to do with the BBC, as evidenced by some unhelpful comments on BBC news programmes this last weekend. The JLC and BoD also met the Disasters Emergency Committee and have a constructive relationship which would allow us to discuss future appeals that might be made and the distributions of funds.
There have been a number of ongoing meetings with Government and officials at which we have discussed directly the matters of concern to the community.
In early October, The JLC, BoD and CST met with Minister of State for Security and Immigration James Brokenshire MP and Mike Freer MP .
Matters raised included the threat posed by extremism, particularly by those returning from conflict zones in the Middle East such as Syria and Iraq. As well as addressing threats to the security of Jewish institutions and individuals, some broader issues of extremism were discussed, particularly the issue of online radicalisation and social media, with the Minister explaining how Britain was working with international partners to tackle the issue of extremism online.
Mr Brokenshire said that “Nothing can justify threats or violence against anyone because of their faith. We need to be confronting all forms of extremism and be much less tolerant of intolerance.”
“The Government has been clear about the need to close any gaps in our response to the terrorist threat and a new counter-terrorism bill will be introduced before the end of November. The Home Office will also be leading further work across government to confront extremism in all its forms”.
A high level meeting was held last week with the Home Secretary and the leadership of the JLC, BoD and CST.
The Home Secretary was told of the record number of antisemitic incidents that occurred during the summer (314 in July alone); and that the community had never before expressed such a widespread feeling of being under severe pressure, with attendant fears for the future wellbeing of the community.
These pressures and fears combined experiences and perceptions of open antisemitism, but also deep concerns about the worsening nature of anti-Israel rhetoric and protest, especially pro-boycott actions that have included violence, criminal damage and intimidation of members of the public and shop workers. Where possible, actions should be taken against those who break the law. Furthermore, intimidation or harassment by pro-boycott activists should be publicly condemned, and retailers ought to contact police when protests involve criminality.
The problems faced by British Jews contradict British values and should concern not only Jews, but society as a whole. It was noted that senior Government figures, including the Prime Minister David Cameron MP, Chief Whip Michael Gove MP, and the Home Secretary herself have publicly expressed a keen awareness of all the factors impacting upon the Jewish Community this summer. Their strong opposition, combined with that from other senior figures including Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg MP and Leader of the Opposition Ed Miliband MP, is extremely important to the Jewish community.
One particular aim of the meeting was to reinforce the message that the community needs to be reassured that the law is properly enforced in regard to all of the issues that arose so forcefully this summer.
This had also been one of the core messages in the previous day’s meeting of the Cross-Government Working Group on Antisemitism, which included Parliamentary Under-Secretary Stephen Williams MP and was addressed by CST, BoD, JLC, and Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis. The Working Group is the core of the joint long-term efforts between Government and the Jewish community to discuss and tackle antisemitism.
We have been pleased to note that the Government and the Labour Party continue to oppose boycotts of Israeli goods, services and products. The JLC and BoD have been working constructively with volunteers and activist groups and organisations like the Zionist Federation and We Believe in Israel to ensure a coordinated approach and response when we become aware of boycott activity.
But the JLC and the Zionist Federation have also endorsed a public statement of the community’s absolute opposition to Cultural boycotts, which have begun to surface over the summer.
The Jewish community feels a strong connection to Israel, deriving comfort and pride from the ongoing success of a liberal democracy that shares British values and is an important ally to the United Kingdom.
It also recognises the need to find a political resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and overwhelmingly supports a two state solution, achieved via diplomacy between the two sides.
It is nonetheless totally opposed to the methods and aims of the BDS movement, rejecting outright the comparison between Apartheid-era South Africa and Israel. Not only does the sight of Jewish individuals and organisations being boycotted echo some of the most painful moments in our recent history, but the rhetoric at these protest actions often spills over and fuels unmistakeable and unacceptable antisemitism.
Freedom of speech is an unalienable British value, and one that includes the right to protest. This must be balanced with the right of Israelis, including artists, to be able to travel and work unmolested.
The community is opposed to any efforts to boycott Jewish culture, and regards such efforts as an effective ‘red line.’ This especially includes any suggestion or demand that Jews disassociate themselves from Israel, for example by refusing to receive funding from Israeli government sources. Such proposals have a chilling effect on the Jewish community’s ability to express itself freely, and are to be condemned.
We recommend that there be stronger measures to monitor anti-Israel protests, including outside cultural events, and the enforcing of zero tolerance towards hate speech and incitement to violence.
This should include greater efforts to train local police officers in what constitutes antisemitism for the purposes of recognising when the law has been broken. Particular attention should be given to forms of jihadist antisemitism.
Where possible, venues should be encouraged to take legal measures against individuals who deliberately disrupt performances.
Chanukah in the Square
The JLC, Chabad and London Jewish Forum are once again staging Chanukah in the Square on First Night Chanukah – Tuesday 16th December. This will be a wonderful opportunity for the community to celebrate our Jewish culture and religious festivals in the heart of Central London with the full support of the Mayor of London. It is a chance for us to show our pride in our Jewish customs and to celebrate the fact that we live in a multicultural society where we can be proud of our customs. It will be a joyful and lively celebration and I hope that as many people as possible will join us in Trafalgar Square to show their pride in our Jewish identity.
11th November 2014