Our Jewish community has engaged in a debate which has played out in the mainstream media and social media since the dreadful terrorist attacks in Paris, including the murder of innocent Jewish shoppers at a kosher supermarket.
We should be under no doubt that one of the aims of terrorists is to strike terror and fear into the general population. And understandably, the terrorist attacks in Paris and more recently, Copenhagen have created concern and anxiety amongst the Jewish community in the UK.
Two different messages emerged in the days after the Paris attacks. It played out in the letters pages of The Times. After the publication of a rather hysterical set of figures claiming that more than four in 10 Jews were thinking of leaving the country, a number of leading community representatives sought to express their opinion that Great Britain was a great place in which to be Jewish.
Rabbi Laura Janner Klausner, the senior rabbi of the Movement for Reform Judaism wrote to The Times to say that, despite the raised levels of security and the fear of anti-Semitism, Britain was indeed a great place to be Jewish. The following Monday, a grassroots activist who had been involved with creating the survey on which the previous week’s headlines had been based, wrote that he disagreed with the Rabbi and that the levels of concern were much higher than she was acknowledging. I wrote on social media that I agreed with Rabbi Laura. Let me explain why.
There is no question that anti-Semitism is at higher levels now than it has been in previous years. The CST’s Recorded Incidents figures for 2014 have shown the number of incidents at a record level. But do we use figures such as this and others to give up on Jewish life in the UK?
On the contrary. I believe that the role of the community’s leadership is to provide a sober analysis of the reality of the situation, to provide realistic and reassuring messages to the community and to take reasonable steps to ensure that the community’s messages are being transmitted quickly, clearly and with effective results to Government and policy makers.
I would argue that the JLC and its member organisations are doing everything that we should be doing in relation to the very real threat of anti-Semitism, and of anti-Israel boycott activity. We have the ear of Government. Not only have we had meetings with the Prime Minister, the Home Secretary, the Minister for Security and Immigration, the Secretary of State for Education, the Minister of State at the Department for Communities and Local Government, but the messages that we are putting in those meetings are being responded to rapidly and constructively by the Government. Government ministers have spoken passionately and articulately about the need to fight anti-Semitism and to preserve religious freedom. The Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government both spoke at a recent plenary meeting of the Board of Deputies articulately on this point. I would also commend you to read the speech given by the Secretary of State for Culture Media and Sport, Sajid Javid, at a UJS conference in December. Powerful, reassuring and inspiring words for the students.
The CST has excellent relationships with police at national regional and local levels, with visible patrols and support from the police for Jewish areas. Security discussions are conducted at the highest level and are integrated into the Government’s planning. Holocaust Education has been at the heart of our national discourse during the week of Holocaust Remembrance Day and the publication of the findings of the Prime Minister’s Holocaust Commission.
Not one member of JLC would seek to underplay the threat that we face or the rise that there has been in anti-Semitism. But we are determined that the community should know the steps that we are taking to ensure that the community is protected in the best way that it can be.
And I would argue that there have also been developments in the last few weeks which should give us comfort. In my former world of football, an FA disciplinary panel acted strongly and robustly against two high-profile football characters who had come out with anti-Semitic comments. Such alertness would not have happened a few years ago. Holocaust Memorial Day was covered more widely and more respectfully this year than I can remember in previous years. The BBC devoted hours of airtime to programmes on Holocaust remembrance. And the All Party Parliamentary Group Report on Antisemitism was immediately welcomed by all party leaders and is already being taken forward.
So I am on the side of those people who want to put across a message of reassurance in these uncertain times. But, more than that, the JLC has adopted a clear mission statement which sets out what we believe to be our role in relation to the Jewish community and our vision for the community.
The JLC’s mission is to work, through our members, to ensure the continuity in the UK, in this and future generations, of a mainstream Jewish Community which is:
|1||Vibrant and Vital|
|2||Safe and Secure|
|3||Assured of its place within British Society|
|4||Proud of its Jewish identity and culture|
|5||Confident in its support for Israel|
Providing a range of sustainable services for the benefit of the whole community including:
|1||Health, care, welfare and wellbeing|
|3||Education, Schools and Leadership development|
This mission looks to the next generation and seeks to counter the fearful message that the Jewish community should be looking to pack its bags and leave the UK. Our mission is to ensure that the values which underpin the mainstream Jewish community carry us forward into the next and future generations.
That is what is will underpin our work and that is why I am on the side of those people who wish to reassure the community and wish to say that Britain is a great place in which to be Jewish.