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Harry Freedman
Writing on Jewish history, Jewish books, Jewish ideas

British Jews Should Not Play the Anti-Semitism Card

Once again the conflict in Gaza has generated an outburst of anti-Semitism across Europe. Some of the stories coming out of France are horrific. As for Germany, even the faintest whiff of anti-Semitism is an outrage; clearly those responsible for assuaging that country’s collective guilt still have much to do.

The picture in the United Kingdom is different though. The level of anti-Semitism is nowhere near that of France or Germany. Yet, reading some of the press articles over the past week one could be excused for thinking that the country was on the verge of an outbreak of pogroms against the Jews.

A major feature in the Sunday Times, the UK’s most popular weekend broadsheet screamed “Anti-Semitic attacks scar British cities”. The editor of the once-respected Jewish Chronicle contributed a piece headed “Anti-Semitism rears its ugly head”. Most of the article was devoted to detailing outrages in Europe. And it did make the point that the situation in the UK is nothing like as bad as in France. But it also cited a march on the Israeli Embassy by 15,000 Israel protesters, implying that anti-Semitism and opposition to Israel’s policies are one and the same thing. They are not.

The history of the Jewish community in the UK has been relatively benign. It is now the most stable Jewish community in Europe, a position it achieved by default following the slaughter of the Shoah. Other than a period in the 1930s, when pro-Nazi agitators led by Oswald Mosley marched through Jewish areas, there has been relatively little organised anti-Semitism in the UK.

Even now, when the nation is currently going through one of its periodic bouts of anti-immigrant grumbling, fuelled by the 15 minutes of fame granted to a right-wing fringe party, the targets of abuse are not Jews. Yes, there have been a number of anti-Semitic incidents in recent weeks, 100 have been reported in London since the beginning of July. But the vast majority of these are little more than verbal abuse. It is almost certainly far more frightening to be a Muslim in modern Britain than a Jew.

Jews in Britain are far more fortunate than in most other countries. Our contribution to British society, to business, the arts, culture and science is significant, and widely acclaimed. The next election may even produce a Jewish Prime Minister. We have also contributed, not just through our activities but also through our very presence, towards Britain becoming a successful multi-cultural society, possibly the most diverse and vibrant in the world. London is a polyglot society and Jews are just as much at home on its streets as any other race.

Yes, British Jews do have a problem with some Muslims in the UK, whose anti-Semitism is fuelled by propaganda from the Middle East. But this is a specific, clearly defined issue. It is not an example of British anti-Semitism.

There is a danger in exaggerating the impact of anti-Semitism in Britain. Not just because it frightens people unnecessarily. It diminishes the national culture. Every religious, ethnic or racial group receives adverse attention from time to time; Jews no more than any other. To suggest that we are somehow more discriminated against is to turn ourselves into victims, to stoke the self-fulfilling fires of anti-Jewish hatred. Playing the anti-Semitism card may sell newspapers. But more importantly, it encourages British Jews to lose sight of just how privileged and fortunate we are to live in a relatively tolerant and open society.

You can find out more about me and my books on my website: http://www.harryfreedmanbooks.com/

The Talmud, A Biography by Harry Freedman will be published by Bloomsbury in the USA in the fall. http://www.bloomsbury.com/us/the-talmud-a-biography-9781472905949/

About the Author
My latest book, Reason to Believe is the authorised biography of Rabbi Dr Louis Jacobs. Louis Jacobs was Britain’s most gifted Jewish scholar. A Talmudic genius, outstanding teacher and accomplished author, cultured and easy-going, he was widely expected to become Britain’s next Chief Rabbi. Then controversy struck. The Chief Rabbi refused to appoint him as Principal of Jews’ College, the country’s premier rabbinic college. He further forbade him from returning as rabbi to his former synagogue. All because of a book Jacobs had written some years earlier, challenging from a rational perspective the traditional belief in the origins of the Torah. The British Jewish community was torn apart. It was a scandal unlike anything they had ever previously endured. The national media loved it. Jacobs became a cause celebre, a beacon of reason, a humble man who wouldn’t be compromised. His congregation resigned en masse and created a new synagogue for him in Abbey Road, the heart of fashionable 1970s London. It became the go-to venue for Jews seeking reasonable answers to questions of faith. A prolific author of over 50 books and hundreds of articles on every aspect of Judaism, from the basics of religious belief to the complexities of mysticism and law, Louis Jacobs won the heart and affection of the mainstream British Jewish community. When the Jewish Chronicle ran a poll to discover the Greatest British Jew, Jacobs won hands down. He said it made him feel daft. Reason To Believe tells the dramatic and touching story of Louis Jacobs’s life, and of the human drama lived out by his family, deeply wounded by his rejection. Reason to Believe was published by Bloomsbury Continuum in November 2020 in the UK and will be published on 12 January 2021 in the USA. You can find out more about my books and why I write them at www.harryfreedmanbooks.com
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