Fanatical undermining of free speech in the Jewish community

Free speech (Photo by Michael Dziedzic on Unsplash)
Free speech (Photo by Michael Dziedzic on Unsplash)

On 2 December last the Jerusalem Post published an interview with Mr Samuel Hayek, an Anglo-Israeli businessman who is currently head of the UK-based JNF Charitable Trust (JNF-UK).

No stranger to controversy, Hayek used the interview as a platform from which to launch an analysis of the causes of anti-Jewish prejudice in contemporary Britain. “In 10 years, maybe less [he said], who knows, Jews will not be able to live in the UK.” Asked by the Jewish News to justify this bleak assertion, Hayek did not pull his punches. “The demographic of British society is changing [opined Hayek] … [due to] the number of immigrants coming to England.” And just in case anyone was in doubt as to the identity of these immigrants, Hayek made it crystal clear that he was referring to Muslims, who (he declared) “don’t speak English [and] create their own ghettos, their own education, their own process of thinking.”

The reaction from the Anglo-Jewish Establishment [AJE] was frenzied and immediate. From the Board of Deputies, the Jewish Leadership Council, and the Community Security Trust – not to mention the Chief Rabbi of the United Synagogue –   there issued forth effusive condemnations of Hayek, and of JNF-UK. Elements of the AJE made it clear that they expected JNF-UK to rid itself of Hayek’s presence, and when it became clear that this was easier said than done battalions of the Establishment – strengthened by the support of sundry Jewish student leaders – tabled at the Board of Deputies a motion censuring JNF-UK, noting that JNF-UK’s trustees had, regrettably, declined to condemn Hayek’s remarks. The motion was passed (23 January) by almost two-thirds of those Deputies who voted.

The Board has now written to JNF-UK’s trustees expressing its collective displeasure at their continued silence. This letter is a monument to the concept and practice of chutzpah.

We note [the letter declares] that the Chair of JNF has still not retracted his comments and nor has he apologised for them. It is also regrettable that you as Trustees have not been explicit in your condemnation of his comments. When you are unable to reject explicitly, anti-Muslim bigotry, it undermines attempts to draw attention to, and combat, antisemitism from extremists in the Muslim community. Furthermore, the sweeping statement about the future of Jewish life in the UK is deeply insulting to the many thousands of activists and leaders whose ceaseless work has made our community a beacon of excellence in the Jewish Diaspora.

It is, I understand, now entirely possible that JNF-UK will be expelled from the Board – or at least have its membership suspended. Meanwhile, a Board vice-president, Gary Mond, who also happens to have been JNF-UK’s treasurer, has reportedly been prevailed upon to resign his vice-presidency, following revelations that he had committed to social media various comments about adherents of Islam, including the view that “all civilisation” is “at war with Islam.”

I feel bound to ask why Hayek should apologise for his comments, and why the JNF-UK trustees should condemn them. If Hayek anyone else wishes to make “sweeping statements about the future of Jewish life in the UK,” why should they not do so? If other people – other British Jews – feel insulted by such statements, so what?  There is no such thing as a right not to be offended, and no law that prohibits the giving of offence.

I must make it clear that I do not necessarily agree with Mond or Hayek – or indeed other Deputies who have over the years been silenced and even suspended for expressing opinions critical of Islam. But I should also add that it must be evident to anyone on the right side of half-witted that the growing Muslim presence in the UK has, incidentally, added an unfortunate new avenue for the articulation of anti-Jewish rhetoric within this sceptred isle. This view is in fact shared by some close Muslim friends of mine – educated people who have come to this country to escape the violent and intolerant cultic theologies that rage unchecked in the lands of their birth.

It must be evident to anyone on the right side of half-witted that the growing Muslim presence in the UK has, incidentally, added an unfortunate new avenue for the articulation of anti-Jewish rhetoric within this sceptred isle.

However, my concern is rather with the fanatical, blatant undermining of freedom of expression within the Jewish communities of the UK, which the Board’s letter exemplifies and celebrates.

Historically, the major preoccupation of the AJE has always been with communal image. My own professional life is (as my forthcoming autobiography will chronicle) littered with attempts by one or more elements of the AJE to censor my work and even to prevent me working.

I used to think that attempts to shut me up were generational in origin – that the generation of the Holocaust was deeply scarred, but that with this generation’s passing we would enter the sunny uplands, where all British Jews could exercise freedom of expression without let or hindrance.

I was wrong.

So let me state, for the record, that whilst I do not necessarily agree with Mond or Hayek – or indeed other Deputies who have over the years been silenced and even suspended for expressing opinions critical of Islam – I do most emphatically defend their right to publicly express their views, and to do so without suffering any detriment to the security of any communal positions they may have the honour of holding.

PS. I understand that in censoring Samuel Hayek, Deputies argued that he had brought the Board of Deputies into “disrepute.” But disrepute, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. Besides, in a liberal democracy like the UK, what greater disrepute could there be than trampling upon another’s freedom of expression?

About the Author
Professor Geoffrey Alderman is an academic, author and journalist
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