On the back foot

In the UK today the Jewish Community is constantly surprised. Surprised at how much anti-Semitism there is, surprised that so many people hate Israel and surprised that the leadership – until recently at least – had no clue as to what was going on.

For too long we have thought everything is alright. Alright because we can do anything we want. For the last 20 years Jews have taken the most senior roles in the legal profession, been in the cabinet, elevated to the House of Lords and been very successful in business. The problem faced by most of us is getting our children to the right schools or universities, finding a nice house and making sure that the holiday home is near to an airport so we can get to it quickly.

Last summer that changed. And we were not expecting it. We were not expecting it because we had not been watching closely or in fact at all. For too long we didn’t notice the banning of Israeli lecturers, the motions from local Government condemning Israel or banning Israeli products or more recently declaring an affiliation with the BDS movement, all in the name of human rights.

For many years, and probably for most of the 21st Century most of us accepted that for as long we kept working, kept earning and kept going to Shul, that everything would carry on as normal. Israel had moved some time ago from being an agricultural economy to being a modern technological country producing high tech products and exporting these to the world. The ‘noisier’ issue in the UK was that of religious movement. For some time there has been a concern amongst what used to be called the middle of the road orthodox as to a perceived polarisation of the community. Added to this was a concentration of the community largely in a small number of cities – London, Manchester, Gateshead, Leeds and Glasgow.

The concentration resulted in less interaction with the outside world. This inward looking approach coupled with a general sense of well-being meant that we just didn’t see what was happening around us. Until last Summer that is, and until last Saturday when the British Labour Party elected its most vicious opponent for decades, possibly worse than Ernest Bevan in the years running up to Israeli independence.

The quality newspapers have picked up on the increase in anti-Semitism and with some notable exceptions, have roundly condemned it. That support, and also that from David Cameron the British Prime Minister is most welcome. This support is not enough, helpful though it is. It is time for us to make ourselves count, be proactive in social media, at Local Government meetings and on the streets.

These are not our natural habitat but they need to be. We are fortunate in that most UK citizens do not like discrimination, do not like anti-Semitism and above all do not like bullies. We need to be reporting every hate post on Facebook & Twitter, every biased piece of reporting in the press and protesting however we can when MPs, councillors or Local Governments condemn Jewish self determination and claim not be anti-Semitic.

The time for being on the back foot has well and truly past, we need to be on the front foot, now.

About the Author
Robert Festenstein is a solicitor based in Manchester with considerable experience in Court actions. He is active in representing groups opposing BDS and fighting the increase in anti-Semitism, particularly amongst the left-wing in the UK.
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