Moral courage of true allies in short supply

John Mann (Jewish News)
John Mann (Jewish News)

A recent poll of the Jewish community revealed that 62 percent do not think there are enough allies outside of the community willing to address antisemitism. It is not hard to see why so many have that view.

Those we have believed were allies have been too slow to confront the surge of antisemitism in the Labour Party, with pithy words and little action from many still within the party.

Jews need – and should reasonably expect – those in positions of power to point out the danger and ask the public to reflect on it.

But we have seen too little of this.

When John Mann, the government’s independent adviser on antisemitism recently addressed the congregants of my synagogue, I was struck by his words.

John, a true ally, has fought tirelessly on the issue of antisemitism.

His move from the green to red benches means his voice is here to stay and, as
a community, we should be grateful for all he has done and will continue to do.

Except that John has made it clear he doesn’t want our gratitude.

Indeed, the main thing I took away from what was an outstanding speech was that he shouldn’t be thanked by us because he isn’t doing it for us, but for him.

He has studied his history and knows all too well that what starts with the Jews never ends with the Jews.

The overused phrase of the canary in the coal mine is apt when it comes to antisemitism because the increase in anti-Jewish sentiment is a sign of a sickness in society.

It may be Jews today, but it will be others tomorrow and that will include those who have stayed silent or been equivocal on the issue.

Western Jews have enjoyed a golden era of acceptance and tolerance, and the resurgence of political antisemitism in living memory of the Holocaust is frightening.

To assume that the status quo is immovable and that society’s progress is linear
is naïve.

The increasing influence of the political extremes – who not long ago were shunned from the corridors of power – should worry us all.

To see it emerge from what was once a political home for many in our community is truly shameful, but it is a reminder to take nothing for granted.

Before we can demand action from others, we must demand of ourselves.

As a community, we have sometimes been too meek and too British in response to things that require a much more robust approach.

Many of us have internalised the reality of Jewish life in this country, but that breeds complacency.

For our places of worship, Jewish schools and communal buildings to require the level of security they do is not normal, and we must not allow ourselves to think it is.

But we must also need to be better at making the point that even if we are the first victims, this is not just about the Jews.

If we can’t persuade people to take up the cause for moral reasons, we must convince them that this is the prelude to a story that ends not with us, but with them.

The Holocaust forced Christians to confront their own role in antisemitism more fully and more mercilessly than ever before.

Anglicanism was a pioneer of this, with Archbishop Temple helping found the Council of Christians and Jews in 1942 as news of the Final Solution began to emerge.

This is the sort of leadership we need – but have sadly not seen – today.

It is not all gloomy, and the community has strong and unwavering allies.

Organisations such as Faith Matters have shown true leadership and moral courage.

They have spoken out repeatedly against antisemitism, only to be subjected to threats, abuse and intimidation.

Whether they are doing it for us or for them, we must be grateful and hope others follow.

About the Author
Claudia is the Jewish Leadership Council's director of policy & public affairs
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