Being a British Jew is a funny lark. We are a noisy, proud and passionate lot. So noisy, in fact, that we don’t seem to hear when we are told that we are a tiny backwater in the larger context of the Jewish People, who let’s face it, can be found only in Israel and the US. We love our British culture, our tea, our football and cricket, and even our Queen. But we never ever trust our government, and we are never truly confident of our place in British society.
Over many years of experience teaching post-high school gap-year students in Israel from the US and Britain, debating and exploring identity issues, I have witnessed again and again the tension involved in solving the “Am I an American Jew or a Jewish American?” conundrum for young American Jews. Largely, this tension is absent from the parallel question “Am I a British Jew or a Jewish Briton?” Because I believe we instinctively understand that our core identity is Jewish. And I believe this is because American Jews feel partners in the ongoing evolution of American society. And British Jews do not.
Take my parents for instance. People I believe will never make aliyah. However, they will openly confess that they have never truly felt at home in Britain and have no problem admitting that their national loyalty is to Israel rather than Britain. No surprise both their children made aliyah then!
So when William Hague, British Foreign Secretary, falls in line with President Obama and US foreign policy, and declares that Britain stands with Israel in her right to defend her citizens from the threat of Hamas, we are all somewhat pleasantly surprised. And then, in a seamless transition to equating Israel with Hamas, when he calls for both sides to deescalate and do their utmost to protect civilian life, none of us as much as bat an eye lid in surprise.
But then Mr Hague chose to dangle the carrot of the sympathy of the international community in front of Israel’s government, in an attempt to dissuade it from entering Gaza with ground forces. That same international sympathy that was so apparent in 1945, that Mr. Hague’s predecessor, the infamous Ernest Bevin, chose to ignore in favour of upholding the 1939 MacDonald White Paper that prevented 200,000 survivors of the camps, rotting in Displaced Persons camps in Europe, from entering their homeland. What a chutzpah Mr. Hague.
And now you have upset my wife’s Aunty Mindy, a lady not to be trifled with!
You see, perhaps what separates the Jews from the British, is an ever-present awareness of history and historical context. The British seem so ready and willing to abandon this and to focus on the distorted context of the very recent past. We see it in the way the BBC reports from this region, and the political statements and policies of the British government, time and again. But us Jews, we can’t ignore history… and we won’t. We ingest historical context with the milk of our mothers. Passed down from generation to generation, from parent to child, and from Aunty Mindy.
Please take a moment Mr. Hague, to read what our Aunty Mindy thinks of your most recent statements. Because this is how we all see it.
Dear Mr Hague
You have stated that if Israel tries to defend its population through a ground offensive in Gaza ‘it risks losing the sympathy of the international community.’ Let me tell you something about the sympathy of the international community Mr Hague. My father was liberated from Buchenwald concentration camp in 1945, having lost his entire family but gaining the sympathy of the international community at the time. After 6 million Jews had been annihilated at the hands of the Nazi regime, the international community had plenty of sympathy for the Jewish people. There is always plenty of sympathy for victims.
Israel doesn’t need the sympathy of the international community. What it needs is to defend its citizens.When as a tiny country it gained its independence in 1948 it had to absorb 800,000 Jews who were thrown out of Arab lands in the Middle East, and it did so without fuss and with dignity giving them shelter and a place of security in which their children could grow up to become productive citizens. When Jordan, Egypt and Syria tried to destroy Israel in 1948 and again in 1967 they took in hundreds of thousands of Palestinian Arabs, but did they give them dignity or shelter? No they left them to rot in refugee camps in order to maintain a symbol of grievance against Israel and use them as a political tool against the Jewish state. What has arisen in those camps is a complicated situation, but it is what has led to Gaza today.
So don’t lecture Israel on international sympathy Mr Hague.
Not when Israel has just sent in 120 truck loads of food into Gaza to feed the Palestinian people there, because their own leadership is more interested in using its population as human shields, launching rockets against Israel from within major civilian centres.
Don’t lecture Israel on international sympathy Mr Hague.Not when Israel targets with as much military precision as it can, only terrorists and their bases, trying its utmost to prevent civilian casualties.
Don’t lecture Israel on international sympathy Mr Hague.Not when the Palestinian media deliberately uses images of victims of the Syrian civil war and presents them as casualties in Gaza to gain international sympathy.
Go read your history books Mr Hague, go see that since the beginning of the twentieth century all the Arabs wanted to do was destroy Israel. Go look at the country of Israel now since the Jews have established a state there. Go read what advances in science, medicine, biotechnology, agriculture, high tech Israel has developed, and dedicated that knowledge to making the world a better place for humanity. Can you imagine any other country that after 60 years of continuously being under attack could have achieved so much.
So Mr Hague don’t lecture Israel on international sympathy.
Israel will do whatever it takes to defend itself from outright attack on its citizens, whether it be from Hamas, Hizbollah, Iran or any other country or terrorist group that attacks it.
And if it loses the sympathy of the international community so be it. We don’t need the international community’s sympathy. We don’t need another 6 million victims.