“There is a tide in the affairs of men which if missed, leads on to failure…”
Not quite the quote with which we are familiar. But I hope I can be forgiven for misquoting Shakespeare to spotlight what I see as the Anglo-Jewish community’s failure in the 1970s and 80s to forcefully combat the lies being told about Israel and also to spotlight the consequences of that failure. I also have a suggestion for – even at this late stage – rectifying that failure and counteracting the lies.
We all know the result of that failure.
For more than 40 years, our community in Britain has been battered by wave after wave of implacable hostility to Israel. We have fought off attempts at cultural, commercial and academic boycotts we have protested at how Israel is libelled and traduced in the media (and even in UK text books). And worst of all, we have been forced to defend Jewish students against the hostility and harassment they regularly face on UK campuses.
And if all that wasn’t enough, between 2016 and 2019, the Anglo-Jewish community experienced a wave of antisemitism unprecedented since the 1930s after Israel hatred on the far-eft and in the Labour Party segued into anti-Jewish racism that had been enabled (perhaps actively encouraged) by the Labour Party under an extremist leadership cabal that was relentlessly hostile to Israel’s existence.
Back the 1970s and 80s when the campaign to demonise Israel was just starting, the Anglo-Jewish community had a chance to shut it down and to launch a campaign to combat the lies being told about Israel’s culpability (and Jewish culpability) in the Palestinian tragedy.
There was an opportunity to say loudly and clearly – especially on UK campuses – that the version of events being recited was untrue and to point out the key historical facts that in 1921 and again in 1947 the Palestinian Arabs were offered their own viable state in more than two-thirds of Palestine. As we know – and as records prove – this was rejected by Palestinian leaders who wanted (and expected to get) the whole of Palestine.
The Anglo-Jewish community had a chance to say – again, loudly and clearly and again, especially on UK campuses – that Jews did not dispossess the Palestinians of their homeland; that Palestinian leaders, not Israel or Jews were responsible for the creation and perpetuation of the refugee crisis. Perhaps they may also have said that, yes, bad things happened to Palestinian Arabs at the hands of Jews but that equally bad things happened to Jews at the hands of Arabs (some might say the bad things happening to Jews was worse as the bad things came on top of what had just happened to Jews in Europe). Combating the lies being told on UK campuses was particularly important because the lies would not only poison the minds of the those hearing them, but would poison the minds of all those to whom they would pass on the lies.
It was also necessary to say that the version of events being repeated was not only a web of distortions, lies and omissions but deliberately played into and fed off centuries of anti-Semitism and Jew-hatred.
But the Anglo-Jewish community did not say any of that.
Perhaps understandably as, at the time, the community had limited resources and other priorities, such as Soviet Jewry (Britain was in the forefront of the Campaign to free Soviet Jews) and caring for the elderley and disadvantaged. Israel was in the mix but did not then feature as prominenly in UK Jewish life. More pertinently, community leaders of the day failed to recognise how the hate campaign being fomented in Britain and on British campuses could eventually lead to a resurgence in anti-Semitism.
The Jewish community’s response, therefore, was to set up Bipac, the British Israel Public Affairs Committee. PACs were imported from America where they were powerful and effective. For at least the first decade of its existence, Bipac had a single member of staff and almost no resources. It was a water-pistol to fight a raging inferno.
As anti-Israel campaigns increased on campuses, as media coverage became increasingly hostile and as calls for boycott and divestment multiplied, Bipac expanded. It ultimately morphed into BICOM, the well-staffed and properly funded organisation which I’m sure achieves considerable success quietly through its public-affairs work
But by the time BICOM was founded in 2002 the lies had taken deep root. In an earlier Blog, I compared the way these lies had taken root and flourished to how Japanese Knotweed takes root.
So this is where we turn to gardening. No, just joking. As my friends and family will attest I know almost nothing about gardening, (indeed, house-plants rarely survive my ministrations), but I do know that if you want to get rid of a stubborn plant you have to dig out its roots.
And that is what I am proposing our community does now to undo four decades of anti-Zionism; 40 years of lies about Israel.
With anti-Semitism still fresh in the minds of non-Jews – thanks, ironically, to the Labour Party – this is possibly the perfect moment to unroll a campaign to explain what’s gone on for 40 years, starting on UK campuses; to set out how and why the Left hates Israel and how this hostility to Israel gave rise to anti-semitism, Holocaust Denial, and physical attacks.
We need to lay it all out and explain it all loudly in expensive, paid-for advertisements and in open letters signed by prominent Jews. Not quietly to avoid offending or upsetting anyone – which is what I suspect has hampered our community until now.
And yes, I know, that will make a few leaders of our community go a bit weak-kneed. Much better, in the view of some, to discuss and negotiate quietly . But just look where that’s got us. And where it has got Israel.
And yes, I also know, that will make a few rabid anti-Semites jump up and down and claim we are a “rich and powerful” group… but frankly their prejudice and bigotry will not be shifted whatever we do (or don’t do).
But if we attack the roots by refuting the lies loudly and publicly, we may make the landscape safer in the future for our children and our children’s children.