#BoDelects: Our community leaders must listen, not just talk

The Labour anti-Semitism row has been challenging for our community.  But it need not be a crisis.

Crises occur when there is no strategy or planning. By working so effectively together and placing the issue in the public eye, the Board and the Jewish Leadership Council have successfully forced the Labour leader to change his tone of voice. We have proved our detractors wrong and shown we know how to stand up strongly for the community’s interests.

But now we need to ensure Jeremy Corbyn’s change of tone is matched
by real action. That means thinking ahead, being bold and showing courage, as I did by travelling to Iraq.

We need more than demonstrations. Fighting anti-Semitism requires not just censure, but also engagement. We need a programme of education and training across the political spectrum and society at large to ensure a better understanding not just of anti-Semitism but all forms of racism.  And the Board needs to build broad alliances with other communities to fight all forms of racism.

Racism damages not only its victims but also the society that harbours it. As an immigrant community we know this better than most and so we stand with all those who suffer from discrimination.

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But nor must we forget that we are the most vibrant, creative and resourceful of communities. We have achieved so much, so we must never allow ourselves to be defined by the threats we face or by negativity.

Forty-seven years ago, I arrived on these shores as a refugee, having escaped from the terror and public hangings of Jews in Baghdad. Britain gave me a home, an education, opportunities and a community. It enabled me to become a vice-president of the European Jewish Congress, an envoy of the Israeli Chief Rabbinate, a trustee of Mitzvah Day and an adviser to Limmud International.

Edwin Shuker says fighting anti-Semitism requires engagement

That’s what life in Britain has given me and so we must not forget that whatever challenges we face, Britain is first and foremost a land of opportunity.  So I want us to be a role model for all of British society.

I want us to be proud of our schools, our social care services and our culture. I want us to share our experiences with all those who want to learn from us.

I want us to be leaders in interfaith relations, creating alliances that enable us to support and stand with others – and for them to stand with us.  To this end, I have the advantage of being steeped in many cultures.

I want us to be a shining example of a community that engages its young people, cares for its elderly and utilises the skills of all its members by an inclusive attitude to women.

But to do this, the Board needs to be a place for listening, not just talking, drawing on the skills and amazing expertise of all our Deputies.

I will be a listening president, building on the consensus arising from the Enough is Enough campaign. There is so much more to do: confronting the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, supporting our students on the campus frontline, making the case for our cherished rituals and traditions.

I’ll look for participation and partnership from communities and Deputies to address these and other issues.  I’ll open up our plenary meetings and will empower Deputies to set our policies and the work of our divisions.

I want you to set the agenda and then I want to be your voice. I can imagine no greater honour.

About the Author
Edwin Shuker is the vice chair of the International division of the Board of deputies and the European Jewish Congress special envoy for refugees.
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