Last week Britain voted to leave the European Union. This week the political fallout has been tumultuous.
Away from Westminster, we have seen ugly scenes. Some people are intent on using the outcome of the referendum to divide communities. Others have inferred from the result that voting ‘Leave’ means immigrants should now be forced out of the UK. Indeed, BBC News carried an interview with a man with a swastika tattoo who said he now felt able to speak out against the presence of EU migrants.
There have been other troubling reports of racist abuse and this week we issued a statement deploring racist harassment and urging our community to stand in solidarity with those suffering. We have confidence in the government, police and civil society to take a firm stance and ensure we all feel safe and secure. There can be no place for racism in Britain.
So far, the Jewish community does not seem to have suffered much from these attacks. But it didn’t take long for people to take to social media to claim the current campaign against Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has been orchestrated by “the Zionists”.
The referendum result has been celebrated by the far-right in Europe. French National Front leader Marine Le Pen called Brexit “a victory for freedom” and Beatrix von Storch of the right-wing populist Alternative for Germany party said she “cried for joy” at the result. As and when we do leave the EU, British Jews still need to work closely with our European counterparts in the face of any potential upsurge in anti-Semitism.
Ultimately, all of us – Jews and non-Jews – need to unite to ensure that whatever path the UK takes, we never turn away from the values of liberalism and tolerance, which have made Britain the country it is today and a place where the Jewish community has thrived.
There may be hard bargaining ahead for officials, but these are values on which we can never compromise.
Richard is Senior Vice President, Board of Deputies