As Jewish families up and down the land prepare for the Yamin Noraim (Days of Awe), they may do so with a great sense of foreboding. Fears of an eruption of anti-Semitism on both sides of the Atlantic are at heightened levels.
Here in Britain, an investigation by The Sunday Times reveals how neo-Nazi groups have infiltrated the British Army. Meanwhile, the Corbyn clique, which dominates the Labour Party, is strengthening and, if recent polls are to be believed, could form the next government.
It has done little to properly erase the stain of anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism.
In the United States, the riots at Charlottesville in Virginia, where right-wing groups including the Ku Klux Klan laid siege to the synagogue chanting anti-Jewish slogans, are raw.
Close friends, both professors at the University of Virginia, remain shaken by the ferocity of the hatred. Irrespective of Donald Trump’s reactions, there are echoes of Sinclair Lewis’ 1930s dystopian novel It Can’t Happen Here.
At times like these, a strong, united and focused leadership in the British Jewish community is needed. We have no shortage of organisations purporting to represent out interests and speak out against anti-Semitism. But they seem more concerned with protecting their own territories and status rather than working for the community that funds them.
Writing in Jewish News last week, Simon Johnson, the chief executive of the Jewish Leadership Council (JLC) made much of the efforts of its ‘professional team’ in bringing vital issues such as ‘rising levels of anti-Semitism’ to the table with Prime Minister Theresa May.
Having such a stalwart supporter of the Jewish community at Downing Street is reassuring. But it should not be imagined that the community’s honeymoon with the Tories is forever and Labour is the bigger challenge.
It might also seem a chutzpah for Johnson and the JLC to claim the high ground on anti-Semitism when, just days earlier, it criticised Gideon Falter’s grassroots Campaign Against Antisemitism (CAA) for “scaremongering” and “attention seeking’ after it had used the polling organisation YouGov to establish prejudice against Jews in Britain.
For those who may have forgotten, YouGov, using sophisticated algorithms, was the only polling organisation that predicted the hung Parliament in June’s general election.
As the JLC and the CAA slug it out, the Board of Deputies is focusing on the danger of Corbyn (as evidenced by Phil Rosenberg’s contribution in last week’s Jewish News). Nevertheless, ordinary members of the community and the secular media and politicians can’t be blamed for being confused by all of this. With each organisation claiming the high ground and their own territory, who actually speaks for the Jewish community has become ever more obscure.
It is less than three years ago that a serious effort by the JLC and the Board of Deputies to forge a merger and create a single, all powerful voice for the community foundered.
Much of the hard work was done: a proposed constitution was drawn up with the aim of both preserving the democracy of the Board and the cross-communal expertise of the JLC. Large amounts of Board and JLC money, which could have been spent on community causes, was burnt on high level consultants.
The pooling of political, financial and intellectual resources has never been more important given the anti-Semitism threat. Grassroots organisations such as the CAA need to be embraced for their raw enthusiasm. Community unity would be a terrific mission for 5778.
Happy new year to all our readers.