Chair's Message: September 2015

Over the last month there has been one story which has dominated the news agenda. We have all witnessed on our television screens the harrowing stories of refugees who have risked everything to start a new life in Europe. The continent is now facing the greatest refugee crisis since the Second World War. This year alone, over 380,000 people have reached Europe, with more than half of those coming from Syria. Angela Merkel has already pledged to accept the 800,000 refugees expected in Germany by the end of the year. Britain also has a duty to help those fleeing persecution. This issue will test the character of the nation’s moral fabric. Are we a compassionate nation or do we turn a blind eye to those who need our support? At the start of the Second World War, Britain accepted 10,000 Jewish children via the Kindertransport. This act of generosity saved these children’s lives. They grew up loving Britain and made amazing contributions to British life. Britain must now demonstrate the same compassion as it did in 1938. But we also have an obligation as Jews to respond to this crisis. The many if not most of British Jews are descendants of refugees. Rabbi Lord Sacks reminds us in a recent piece in the Guardian that “the Bible commands us to ‘Love the stranger because you were once strangers,’” and we must now put these words into action. Sacks eloquently sums up this argument by concluding that “wars that cannot be won by weapons can sometimes be won by the sheer power of acts of humanitarian generosity to inspire the young to choose the way of peace instead of holy war.” We must now harness those words and help those who need our support. I am pleased that World Jewish Relief will help coordinate the responses of our community. I also urge those with the financial capacity to contribute generously to the WJR appeal.

Another important recent development has been the election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour party.

The Jewish Leadership Council will, as we always have, find ways of working with Her Majesty’s Opposition on matters relevant to us. Over the course of the leadership campaign, we had a number of concerns regarding some of Mr Corbyn’s past connections, and his stances on policy areas of great significance to the Jewish community. It is important that the legitimate concerns of the community are addressed.

We look forward to meeting with Mr Corbyn at the first available opportunity to discuss our concerns, but also ways in which the Labour Party and the Jewish community can continue to work together in a spirit of cooperation and understanding. We hope that the Labour movement remains a welcoming environment for members of the Jewish community, many of whom have lifelong commitments to it.

Despite a lot of opposition to the visit, including a petition calling for his arrest to be discussed in Parliament, the Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, made a brief stopover in London on his way to the United Nations. He met with the Prime Minister, David Cameron, and discussed a wide range of issues, including the Iran Deal, the threat of Islamic extremism, deepening bilateral trade links and resuming the peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. I recently wrote in an article for the Jewish News that Britain must stand tall against Islamic extremism and Jihadism in all forms as it is the greatest threat we face today. We enjoy a strong relationship with the state of Israel and it was important that we show solidarity with Israel to counter the vitriol of the BDS movement and those who seek to isolate the state of Israel. The academic year is beginning and Jewish students all over the country will be going back to University and contributing to campus life in a number of ways. One of these places is Exeter University, which is regrettably holding a conference entitled “Setter Colonialism in Palestine” in October. The organisers aim to ‘challenge Israel’s alleged exceptionality’ and it mentions ‘Israeli setter-colonialism.’

In a constructive engagement, the JLC raised the issue that the call for papers and conference timing could give the appearance of a lack of opportunity to submit opposing views on the issue of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The University understands this concern, and has worked with the JLC and its academics to address it, while keeping at its heart the principles of academic freedom and freedom of enquiry.

Therefore, on this occasion:

  • The JLC has been invited to nominate two academics to attend and participate in the conference in its current form which is scheduled for the beginning of October.
  • An academic event will be held later in the year and co-hosted by the University of Exeter and the JLC, which will provide an opportunity for further academic debate, ensuring that many topics are covered from a range of speakers on both sides of the debate.  The JLC and the University will jointly agree the title, format and content.

In two years we will mark 100 years since the Balfour Declaration. This was an historic moment in the creation of the Jewish homeland and the Jewish community must use this anniversary as a rallying point to celebrate the State of Israel.

We have just ushered in 5776. Rosh Hashanah and the Yamim Nora’im are times of reflection and introspection. There is much going on in our world which is deeply impactful for the Jewish People. Now is a good time for all of us to reflect both individually and as a community how best to respond to these events in a way which is consistent with our core Jewish values. I wish all of you a Shana Tova and a G’mar Chatima Tova.