Don’t overreact to racist thugs causing trouble in our back yard
The anti-Jewish protest due to take place in Golders Green on 4 July has provoked huge public concern. Condemnation has come from Jews and non-Jews alike, and from leading politicians right across the spectrum, which is very welcome and encouraging.
There is obviously no tangible “cause” behind the protest.
Its professed stance against “Jewish privilege” smacks of prejudice and jealousy of the most insidious kind.
The pretext that it is in opposition to the activities of the Shomrim patrol group is pathetically lame.
Were it not for the exceptional security threat hanging over our community from terrorists and other anti-Semites and the volume of crime on the streets, the work of Shomrim, which has an excellent relationship with the police, would not be necessary.
The Jewish community must be careful to view the event in perspective and not overreact. The protest organisers are a relatively small bunch of racist thugs, some of whom are known to have criminal convictions.
Their political influence in Britain is currently close to zero, as seen at the recent election.
It is possible the number of protesters will be very low.
Calling for the protest to be banned is a double-edged sword. Being a “static” and theoretically peaceful protest, there is scant legal argument for banning it.
If Home Secretary Theresa May, an outspoken opponent of anti-Semitism, had felt she had the power to ban it, I’m sure she would have done.
There has to be a real threat of violence and other unlawful activity to warrant the curbing of freedom of speech.
To attempt to do so for any other reason can serve to turn the would-be protestors into martyrs.
What’s important is that well-trained police officers should be highly visible on the day but also ready to arrest without hesitation any individuals who make speeches, shout slogans or distribute literature that is threatening or racially abusive, since that would be unlawful.
To their credit, the local Barnet police have engaged very thoroughly with Jewish community organisations and local politicians regarding the protest, but for all the advance “preparation”, it is what happens on the ground on 4 July that really counts. Is an official counter-protest necessary?
For a number of reasons I’d say no.
We are not dealing with 1930s Blackshirts. At that time, swathes of wild fascists marched through the East End carrying anti-Jewish banners, attempting to intimidate the thousands of Jews residents.
There was no public order legislation against race hatred and police were relatively powerless unless violence occurred. Active opposition from the Jewish community in its own self-defence was vital, and it was only then that politicians and law enforcement agencies took more notice.
Leafy Golders Green 80 years on, in multicultural Britain, is a totally different ball game. There is also the question of the company with whom Jewish counter-protestors in Golders Green might find themselves aligned.
They could well be standing alongside extreme left-wingers such as members of the Anti-Nazi League, whose hatred of Israel is every bit as iniquitous as the fascists against whom they are protesting.
Islamic extremists with pro-Hamas or pro-ISIS sympathies could be present too, to protest against Islamophobia.
As history has shown, the enemy of my enemy is not necessarily my friend. I am not shy of demonstrations or counter-demonstrations as a matter of principle.
The anti-fascist rallies against Oswald Mosley, Colin Jordan and other neo-Nazis served an important purpose. So, too, did those for Soviet Jewry and Jews in Arab lands and the Israel rallies during the Yom Kippur War and the subsequent PLO-appeasement era.
There was also a purpose to the counter-protests against the Hamas supporters who gathered outside the Israeli Embassy during the Gaza war chanting slogans that would have made Hitler proud.
Each situation has to be judged on its own merits.
In my view, the 4 July event is something different, and a counter-protest would be taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut and could lead to ugly physical clashes. It should also not be forgotten that 4 July happens – far from coincidentally – to be Shabbat.
The observance of Shabbat has sustained the Jewish people and is our greatest protection.
For Jews to disturb the spiritual sanctity of a Shabbat afternoon to take to the streets for political activity, there has to be an overridingly important reason.
To those Jewish activists who might intend to drive or take transport to the protest, to use phones, take photos and spend money, I would say: Please stay at home.
If you want to make a difference that day, try attending shul for a change, where a few extra prayers will have far more beneficial effect.