Last week was Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement and the holiest day of the Jewish year. In the synagogue all day – a wonderful space in time to re-assess life but this Yom Kippur yet another startling wake-up call to the growing anti-Jewish hatred throughout the world. About eleven o’clock in the morning an announcement was made. A shoot-out at a synagogue in Germany – two people killed. No more news the whole day but a lot of horrible thoughts.
What was happening? Were congregants being held by gun-point in the synagogue? Were we safe in our synagogue? Should we stay? Should we go?
I felt very vulnerable sitting in a London suburban synagogue and knowing that the insecurity created in Europe directly affects my grass roots peace-making work in Israel. Let me explain why:
I am a trustee of the British Friends of Neve Shalom~Wahat al Salam –the village in Israel where Jews and Arabs live in a shared, equal society. A large part of what I do is trying to convince diaspora Jews to support Peace through Education. To support Israeli Jews and Arabs to engage in joint projects be it sports and arts, bi-lingual and bi-cultural schooling or every-day Arabic taught in Jewish schools. To help people to meet and to get to know the ‘Other’. To learn to hate a bit less and to love a bit more.
Acts of antisemitism certainly do not help in this endeavour. There is undoubtedly a knock-on effect on the perception that diaspora Jews have of the Arab world and that Israeli Jews have of their Arab neighbours.
And so I will be told that I’m living in Cloud-Cuckoo-Land, that Israel must defend itself against its enemies. That now is not the time to talk of initiatives for peace. And in many ways I understand. The shooting in Germany brings on the fear of annihilation. The fight for survival re-surfaces. Jewish people who had to leave Arab lands and Jewish people whose parents, grand-parents and great-grand- parents were systematically murdered feel they must protect themselves and that Israel must be strong and secure.
As far as my work is concerned, every antisemitic act feels like we’re back to square one. Let’s call it out. Antisemitism is one of the uglier elements stopping the precarious political peace process from ever even starting.