This week, in the wake of the Barcelona terror attack, the city’s Chief Rabbi, Meir Bar-Hen, described Europe as “lost” for Jews. He told said: “Jews are not here permanently. I tell my congregants: don’t think we’re here for good. And I encourage them to buy property in Israel. This place is lost. Don’t repeat the mistake of Algerian Jews, of Venezuelan Jews. Better [get out] early than late.”
Left unspoken, of course, is the fate of the Jews of central Europe in the 1930s, before the Holocaust seized them in its grip: the Jews who failed to see the writing on the wall.
But Rabbi Bar-Hen’s remarks were not supported by the very people he was addressing. The Federation of Jewish Communities of Spain said it had “full confidence in security forces who work daily to prevent fanatics and radical Muslims from inflicting pain and chaos on our cities”.
In the same week as the Spanish terror attack, Jews in Britain had yet another survey to digest, a self-selecting YouGov poll which suggested that one in three British Jews were considering leaving the country because of a rise in anti-Semitism.
I am left wondering if we, too, are failing to see the writing on the wall, or if indeed there is a tremendous amount of white noise about the subject. I am encouraged by the response of John Mann, MP, a down-to-earth individual if ever there was one.
Responding to the YouGov poll, commissioned by the Campaign Against Antisemitism, Mann said: “We know that British Jews are concerned and we are working to address those concerns. It is beholden on organisations to not sensationalise anti-Semitism but rather to work to put national frameworks in place to defeat it”.
Let us be clear. Jews have lived in Britain since their re-admittance by Cromwell in 1656, and have lived with varying degrees of comfort here since then — and we might be said, in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, to be living the best Jewish lives possible. By and large Britain is a tolerant society and today’s governments do their best to protect us as a religious minority.
The Crown Prosecution Service has just issued new guidelines requiring online hate crime to be treated as seriously as face-to-face offences — a direct and robust response to the vicious abuse targeted at the Jewish Labour MP, Luciana Berger.
Last week I was delighted to see dozens of ordinary Brits in the Victoria & Albert Museum, putting in their two-penn’orth as to the eventual design of a proposed national Holocaust memorial. Our survivors are honoured, our schoolchildren are protected by government-funded security. Of course not everything in our corner of the garden is rosy and there are certainly some people who, as a former editor of mine once put it, hate Jews more than absolutely necessary.
We shouldn’t be complacent. But I don’t believe we are in a 1930s situation and I also don’t believe that Europe is lost. I think we need to be vigilant and aware of terror and anti-Semitic threats; but we should be proud of being British Jews — and so should other Jews in Europe of their communities.
We still have a lot to offer.