Claudia Mendoza
Claudia Mendoza

Jews are afraid, but there are reasons to be cheerful

Priti Patel meeting with jewish community representatives
Priti Patel meeting with jewish community representatives

Over the past few weeks, I have lost count of the number of people who have told me how despondent they feel about their future as Jews in this country.

They feel besieged and frightened by the unprecedented levels of antisemitism reported by the Community Security Trust (CST).

Those fears have undoubtedly been amplified by social media. I have also felt moments of despondency until I found a perspective offered by the late Lord Sacks.

In one chapter of his outstanding book, Judaism’s Life-Changing Ideas, Sacks relays the story of the first spies Moses sent into Canaan. Ten came back with a demoralising report, leading people to wish they had died in Egypt. How could the spies come back from this bountiful land and only focus on the negative?

So terrified were they of the Canaanites they entirely failed to realise it was the Canaanites who were afraid of them. 

In response to the spies’ fatalism, Sacks calls upon the expertise of a friend working in the field of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) –  a method seeking to amend distorted thinking where things are seen as polarised either/or. 

Sacks outlines a phenomenon known to CBT specialists as negative filtering, something that allows us to discount the positives and focus exclusively on the negatives. It should not need saying that one instance of antisemitism is one instance too many, but does antisemitism, even when heightened as it is now, mean we are not free to live our lives as Jews?

Over the past few weeks we have seen government ministers, from the prime minister down, vocally and consistently support our community. The police have taken strong measures to protect us from those who would do us harm.

Another form of distorted thinking identified by CBT specialists is mind reading – we assume we know what others are thinking, when usually we are completely wrong because we assume things based on our own feelings, not theirs. Far from being 1930s Germany, Britain is a tolerant and open place and the electorate repeatedly rejects extremism.

A recent JLC poll tells a far better story about our stake in UK society. While there are a small number of committed antisemites, most people do not approve of antisemitism and feel sympathy for the Jewish community.

The poll shows that 44 percent of the population say incidents such as the north London convoy, where we heard flag waving men shouting “death to Jews, rape their daughters”, has made them fear for the safety of British Jews. It found 52 percent of Britons agreed that incidents like the shouting of racist slogans from cars travelling through areas popular with Jews in London “makes me worry future atrocities against Jewish people are still possible”. Almost nine in 10 Britons agreed the perpetrators should be brought to justice – with over half of those agreeing those responsible should face the toughest penalties possible.

This is the country that, when faced with fascists, would rather fight on the beaches and the hills than give in, and rejects them at the ballot box. Here, immigrant children become captains of industry, actors, directors, lawyers and doctors. In this country, our parents, grandparents and great grandparents found a place where they, and we, could find a life of meaning and fulfilment. It will take more than the events of the past few weeks to take that away from us.

While we must always be vigilant and fight back, this is a plea for perspective and to see the world as it is, not as you are afraid it might be.

About the Author
Claudia is the Jewish Leadership Council's Co-Chief Executive
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