This week’s Purim celebrations come at the end of a convulsive couple of months for the British Jewish community, and there are no signs that things are going to quieten down any time soon. Everyone who hasn’t been living under a rock is aware of the ongoing row with the Labour Party, and as usual the brave desk warriors, including the “oh-I’ve-just-remembered-I’m-Jewish” crowd, have been jostling to give their solution to the problem.
It’s a mystery to me, indeed, that the former Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith didn’t seek to drag Jews into his grand resignation gesture, for surely we are about the only things missing from the equation. Now that would have been an interesting Purim spiel.
I imagine that most British Jews are thoroughly sick of being at the forefront of debate in the chattering classes and want nothing more than to be left to get on with their lives in peace and comfort.
But thanks to the unambiguous lunacy of such as Gerry Downing and Vicky Kirby, and the courage of two young students at Oxford University Labour Club – Alex Chalmers and OULC disabilities officer Brahma Mohanty, both of whom have resigned from the club – Jews and our complicated relationship with Israel continue to make unwelcome headlines.
Let’s not pretend that everything in the Jewish garden is rosy. That would be short-sighted and foolish. Israel’s present government continues to make some inexplicable decisions and diaspora Jews are left with major headaches in seeking to explain such things.
American Jews are currently asking if the unthinkable – President Donald Trump – could become an actuality. As is frequently said in the House of Commons, I refer my honourable friends to the answer I gave earlier – that is, how was it possible that the apparent “joke” candidate, Jeremy Corbyn, became leader of the Labour Party?
In my opinion – and this, after all, is an opinion column – Corbyn secured his position because too many people thought it was nothing to do with them. Too many people allowed Corbyn to drift inexorably towards victory because they failed to vote for other candidates. Perhaps they failed to vote at all.
In America, it’s possible to see the same trajectory happening with Trump. The horrified desk warriors are writing columns detailing Trump’s misogyny, his expressions of racism, his attacks on minorities – and yes, despite his Jewish grandchildren, his attacks on Jews. Does his description of Jews as “little guys with yarmulkes counting the money” raise a hackle or two? If it doesn’t, it ought to.
But Trump’s success in picking up delegates to win the Republican nomination will be precisely because he is appealing to those prepared to go out and vote. And – leaving aside the mentality of a country which still, in 2016, finds it hard to come to terms with the idea of a woman as president – President Trump is going to be the awful reality if people don’t galvanise themselves and come into close connection with a ballot box.
It’s not “nothing to do with me”. Conditioned by centuries of keeping our heads down and hoping the bad people will go away, we Jews – in Britain or America – need to raise our voices. We need to go out and vote, we need to engage.
Britain is a benevolent democracy and it is, by and large, a good place for Jews to live. But during Jewish Book Week the novelist Howard Jacobson raised a pointed question –“How will we know when it’s time [to leave]?”
And writer Jonathan Freedland spoke about the corruption of the occupation on Israeli society, an occupation which is, sadly, marking its 50th anniversary next year.
I’m wondering whether the two questions shouldn’t be combined. The time to leave is a question many, many French Jews are already asking and answering. But it’s the destination that is the more difficult question. Perhaps a mass Western aliya could solve both problems, exert a more liberal influence on Israeli society, and leave the pollution of anti-Semitism behind.
There are no easy answers. But let’s not pretend we didn’t hear the warnings.