From The Chairman's Desk: June 2016

Unfortunately, terror is an omnipresent factor in our daily lives.

Late last week Jo Cox MP was brutally murdered in the streets of sleepy Birstall as she prepared to meet with constituents. Those who knew her have spoken of a tireless public servant, a remarkable person who was loved and respected by all.  How tragic it is that only her untimely death to bring about just a brief moment of unity as we have all stepped back to consider the temper and tone of today’s fractured and acrimonious political discourse. We all mourn her loss and extend our deepest sympathy to her husband, Brendan and their two children.

In recent weeks, terrorism has also struck in Israel and the United States. Our hearts go out to the families of the victims – the dead, the wounded, and those who will carry the scars of the attacks they witnessed for the rest of their lives.

The vicious attack in Orlando – the worst gun-related attack in US history – was both a hate crime against the LGBT community and an act of Islamic extremism. It was perpetrated by a man who reportedly swore allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi before he went on his rampage, and chose a gay club because he was “disgusted” by homosexuality. We join with all who have spoken with sadness, revulsion and anger at this outrage.

Not a week earlier, on Erev Shavuot, terror struck Israel, in the heart of Tel Aviv. This shocking atrocity took place just as we were about to usher in the festival during which we celebrate the covenant into which Hashem and our ancestors entered which sets out the basis for how society was to function, the normative values that mankind should aspire to and a code of law and justice which would build civilised society. Terror, its perpetrators and those who enable it, be they in Orlando or Tel Aviv, stand apart from this covenant – one that should apply to all mankind.

The world has rightly rallied in the aftermath of the tragedy of Jo Cox and the terror attack in the US expressing condemnation, outrage and a deep sense of sorrow. But the voice of the community of nations regarding events in Israel was once again muted – hardly audible – and this is, too, a sad reality.

Anti-Zionism and antisemitism have been at the forefront of the communal agenda in recent weeks and months. Baroness Royall, who led an inquiry into antisemitism in Young Labour at Oxford University, issued a report which none of us have been allowed to see. We are now in the midst of the Shami Chakrabarti Inquiry, whose goal is to “tackle antisemitism and other forms of racism” in the Labour party. She is due to report imminently and one can only hope that her report with its findings and recommendations will be published in full. Indeed, we hope Ms Chakrabarti will adopt an uncompromising stance toward antisemitism in Labour and ensure the proper means are available within the party to discipline members whenever necessary.

Many in the community have made representations to the Inquiry as well as to that of the Home Affairs Select Committee’s into antisemitism.

At the end of June, I will give oral evidence to the Committee. As Chairman of the Prime Minister’s Holocaust Commission, I will share my thoughts on antisemitism from a historical perspective and how today, I believe, it has morphed into an attempt to delegitimise of the State of Israel. Antisemitism has many guises and forms. But its effects are devastating, not only for Jews but for the whole of society. The Holocaust was the apex of more than a millennium of virulent and institutionalised antisemitism in Europe resulting in mankind falling into the deepest abyss of moral depravity.

For centuries, Jews were demeaned for their appearance, their facial features and their dress. They were excluded from society and subjected to calumnies and libels. They were accused of using the blood of children to bake matzot, of meanness and of being conspiratorial. All of this resulted in a view of the Jew of being the horrible other being hard-coded into the DNA of Christian Europe.

Since the Holocaust, it has been much more difficult to vilify Jews in this way. It offends sensibilities. But today there is a new way to denigrate the Jew: to attack, delegitimise and condemn something with which all Jews are associated- the State of Israel. Being anti-Zionist is the modern incarnation of Jew hate in today’s world.

It is said that people can be opposed to Zionism and not be antisemites. Perhaps that was so at the dawn of the modern Zionist movement when even Jews fearful of losing their rights in their countries of citizenship were concerned about the implications of a modern state. But that is not the case today. Everyone knows that for the overwhelming majority of Jews, Israel is a core element of their Jewish identity. Therefore, if one can establish that their Jewishness rests on a flawed platform, if one can establish that the Israel they love is not legitimate, is a pariah state and should be excluded from the community of nations; then what does it say about the Jew?

Rabbi Lord Sacks once remarked that antisemites invariably find that which is closest and dearest to the Jew to denigrate him or her. Today, it is our inalienable right to national self-determination in the State of Israel. I hope the results of these various inquiries will recognise this reality and be unequivocal their response.

As Britons we should all be proud of this country’s unique role in laying the foundation for Israel’s creation. Indeed, in 2017 we will commemorate the centenary of the Balfour Declaration. Jews and supporters of Israel in every corner of the UK will have the opportunity to mark this historic event and celebrate through public events and educational initiatives. The JLC is coordinating efforts across the community with colleagues from many Jewish organisations, as well as the Rothschild family. Of course, the Balfour centenary will be followed just a few months later by celebrations of Israel’s 70th birthday, which one again will allow us to show our love for Israel and to deepen Britain’s bonds with the Jewish state.

Since our last newsletter, there have been a number of developments within the JLC. I am proud to announce the appointment of five new Vice Presidents.  They are Dame Helen Hyde DBE, the Headteacher of Watford Grammar School for Girls, Karen Pollock MBE, the Chief Executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust, Louise Ellman MP, Member of Parliament for Liverpool Riverside, David Dangoor, President of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews’ Congregation, and Dr Moshe Kantor, the President of the European Jewish Congress. We have also welcomed Jami to the JLC, bringing our membership to 32 communal organisations.

We have also nearly concluded the restructuring of our External Affairs team. This includes a new Head of Digital and Head of Campaigns in our London office, as well as regional managers in both Scotland and the North West, including Manchester, and in Yorkshire and the North East. These new roles mark a significant step in building the promised capacity within our community to address the strategic imperatives of the community across the UK.

Finally, we go to the polls this week to vote on whether Britain should remain in or leave the European Union. The campaign has been heated on both sides, each arguing passionately for their desired outcome. The Jewish community has no uniform view on the EU Referendum. Indeed we each see this through our own prism. However, we have an opportunity of participating in one of the most important strategic decisions of our time and I hope everyone who is eligible will take the opportunity to vote.