The British Board of Deputies is an important and distinguished organization that is undermined by Jonathan Arkush’s head-in-the-sand approach to the deluge of Israel hatred that has erupted in the UK. Arkush is hell-bent on defending Anglo Jewry from charges of insufficient action. But in his response to me he contradicts himself on nearly every line.
He praises Israeli ambassador Daniel Taub, on the one hand, for condemning the ignorant remarks of Jack Straw. Yet he does not hold former Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, or the office’s current occupant, accountable for failing to do the same. Is it only Jews who are temporarily imported from Israel that are responsible to stand up to fraudulent charges of the Jewish state stealing Palestinian land? Does the office of Chief Rabbi not require its occupants to proudly defend the Jewish homeland?
Arkush, who in his column claims responsibility for the welfare of British Jewish students, says he does not know “of a single British university” where they feel fear harassment or bias. Yet his hero Jonathan Sacks said in 2008: “We hope that university vice-chancellors will recognize the feeling of vulnerability that Jewish students have expressed at many university campuses. Part of the essence of a university is that everyone enters in an atmosphere in which they are accepted.” (Jewish Chronicle)
And the growing fear of wearing a yarmulke in public doesn’t end on the college campus. In the small town of Sheerness this past July, a group of Hasidic Jewish boys riding on a bus were attacked by a gang of teenagers who shouted anti-Semitic slurs while pelting the bus with rocks and eggs (Kent Online, July 26, 2013). In Manchester, January 2010, two men approached a Jewish man, ripped the yarmulke off his head and punched him to the ground, knocking him unconscious [CST Anti-Semitic Incidents Report, 2010, p. 13]. In London, October 2010, two Jewish boys were at a bus stop when a large group of teenagers surrounded them, said, “Jews aren’t nice,” and then punched them and tried to steal their yarmulkes and glasses [CST Anti-Semitic Incidents Report 2010, p. 30]. The Chabad rabbi to Leicester, Rabbi Shmuli Pink, had his house attacked with stones three times in the single month of May, 2011. [COL, May 28, 2011]
Arkush praises former Chief Rabbi Sacks for having “spoken up for Israel fearlessly and eloquently.” Yet we in the United States were incredulous when Stephen Hawking of Sacks’ Alma Mater, Cambridge University, publicly joined the BDS movement [Guardian, May 7th, 2013] and Sacks was completely silent. Hawking spoke for me when I was Rabbi at Oxford and we interacted warmly. But such considerations were immaterial when it came to respectfully condemning his participation in the deligitimization of Israel.
Rabbi Sacks was similarly quiet when George Galloway walked out of a debate at Oxford this past February merely because his adversary was an Israeli citizen. [Jerusalem Post, February 21st, 2013] On these and countless other occasions when Rabbi Sacks’ famed eloquence escaped him, as he chose silence in the face of brutal assaults against Israel.
According to Arkush, British Jews “lobby unashamedly for Israel.” Indeed, Arkush implies that the Israel lobby in England may even be stronger than in the United States.
I am not here to play games of one-upmanship, and I hope that Arkush is correct. Indeed, my column was not a criticism of British Jewry, whose Zionism, love for Israel, and communal generosity I bore personal witness to in the eleven years I lived there. Anglo-Jewry, as I have consistently said, is one of the warmest and most dedicated of all Jewish communities in the world. Rather, it is a critique of the Anglo-Jewish leadership who are mysteriously silent amid the growing anti-Israel onslaught.
But if the United Kingdom hosted a pro-Israel lobby equivalent to AIPAC, would a young man have been deported from a British airport simply for having Israeli stamps on his passport, like 23 year-old Chip Cantor in May? [Jewish Press, July 2nd, 2013] Would an AIPAC-equivalent Israel lobby have permitted the UK to urge businesses to label products from Israeli settlements, like the government proposal in 2009? [The Guardian, December 10th, 2009] Would it have allowed an arrest warrant to be issued against a former government minister of an allied nation, like that handed out against Tzipi Livni in 2009? [BBC, December 15th, 2009]
But what is truly astonishing about Arkush’s blindness is the shrinking British Jewish population, which has decreased from 390,000 in 1970 to a little over 263,000 now, and which Arkush claims is growing. Yes, since 2001 it has had a minor increase. But the overall trend is that younger British Jews are either assimilating or moving to Israel.
That is not to say that we in the United States do not have similar challenges. I have devoted several columns to the devastating and recent Pew Research Study that showed that American Jewish commitment is in serious decline, even as its numbers have essentially remained steady. We are at a nearly 60% intermarriage rate and two-thirds of Jews have no Synagogue affiliation. Worse, one third of all American Jews are lighting a Christmas tree, and a similar third say that belief in Jesus is not incompatible with being Jewish. We are not better than our British counterparts.
But what does not happen nearly as much in the United States – and this was my whole point – is that leading political figures cannot get away with attacking Israel with impunity. Those who lie about Israel’s record and malign its reputation pay a stiff and serious price from leaders who engage them publicly. American Jewry believes in Israel’s righteousness, goodness, and commitment to justice, and we publicly confront, with hard facts and figures, those who would falsely seek to demonize the Jewish state.
Compare this posture with what happed in the UK this past January, when Liberal Democrat MP David Ward wrote on his website that he was “saddened that the Jews, who suffered unbelievable levels of persecution during the Holocaust… could be inflicting atrocities on Palestinians.” Later in the year, he called Israel an “apartheid state.” [BBC, July 18, 2013]
Labour MP Paul Flynn, in late 2011, suggested that Matthew Gould, the UK’s first Jewish ambassador to Israel, had “divided loyalties.” [Jewish Chronicle, December 1st, 2011]
Aidan Burley, a Conservative MP, attended a Nazi-themed bachelor party. [The Guardian, December 18th 2011]
In June, one of the UK’s largest trade unions voted to ban its members from visiting Israel and the Palestinian territories on delegations organized by the Trade Union Friends of Israel (TUFI), a London based organization that supports cooperation between Israeli and Palestinian workers. [Jerusalem Post, June 8th, 2013]
The former Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament, Baroness Jenny Tonge, said in 2006: “The pro-Israeli lobby has got its grips on the western world, its financial grips. I think they’ve probably got a grip on our party.” [BBC, September 21st, 2006]
And the BBC Olympic profile picture for Israel was originally an Israeli soldier shouting violently at a defenseless Palestinian, before it was removed due to complaint. [Jerusalem Post, July 25, 2012]
And this insanity is spreading to other commonwealth nations as well, such as the recent announcement on the part of the South African Minister of Foreign Relations that South African government ministers are no longer visiting Israel, out of solidarity with the Palestinians. [Jerusalem Post, November 2nd, 2013]
This is not to say that Britain does not have courageous Jewish leaders who speak out. It does. But not enough.
It would be good for someone to remind Jonathan Arkush that it is not I, but rather those who seek Israel’s demonization, who are the real enemy.