The upsetting news about the murder of Sir David Amess MP reached me just before the start of Shabbat in Tel Aviv. We moved here from London almost 5 years ago. My mind immediately went back to the tall, smiley-faced man that was a constant in the 20 years I worked in and around Parliament in London. The perennially cheerful Sir David. Not from my party but a wonderfully fair-minded Englishman.
Always a delight whether passing him in the corridor or watching him speak. Always willing to get up in the House of Commons and give an alternative perspective to the usual barrage of hostile debate concerning Israel. He campaigned against antisemitism. He loved Israel and he defended our community.
To be clear, I don’t know what went through the mind of the suspect accused of killing Sir David, one of the most pro-Israel Members of Parliament in the UK. But, my dear fellow British Jews, do you need another warning? Was five years of Jeremy Corbyn leading the Labour Party, my former political home, not enough?
Five years during which the body politic took its sweet time to oust Corbyn. Every day I would watch in disbelief as Corbyn was tolerated and drew ever closer to taking up residence in No. 10 Downing Street. Indeed, it took the great British public to act in order to rid us of his brand of Jew-hatred. Even today Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer still has not, despite the best of intentions, managed to fully remove antisemitic elements from the party.
My fellow British Jews, Britain has changed. I have seen this unfold during my career. When Tony Blair was in No. 10, we had no trouble getting an MP to visit Israel and the Palestinian Authority to better understand the complexities of the conflict and the broader region. Education is, after all, informed by experience.
However, as time went on, incoming MPs gradually assumed a new line: “Oh, I’d love to come, David. But it won’t play well the Muslim community in my constituency.”
Watch any debate on the Middle East on the floor of the Commons and you are bound to hear lawmakers repeat the same phrase over and over: I’ve been inundated with emails and letters that invariably demonize Israel. Yes, the leaders of the British Jewish community will continue to say that everything is fine. Let’s not overreact. That Judaism in the UK is vibrant and flourishing. The service and reception at Norrice Lea synagogue was wonderful this week, wasn’t it?
Some Jewish Members of the House of Lords will say the same thing. Indeed, their view from the tea rooms overlooking the Thames remains delightful. But we should challenge those Jewish Labour Peers that did not resign while Corbyn was in charge.
In reality, things have changed. I already made aliyah. I could not imagine my children going to a British university except if they placed themselves in some sort of Jewish bubble — and even then people have a habit of popping them, especially when Israel comes up.
Just think about MPs who would otherwise be sympathetic to Israel, a beacon of light and hope in an otherwise authoritarian and dangerous neighbourhood. Will they stand up for the Jewish state if that means opening themselves up to public opprobrium? Sure, they’ll meet privately with Israeli officials or members of the Labour or Conservative Friends of Israel. Perhaps they’ll nod in agreement with everything that is said.
But will they make their voices heard in public? My friends, Britain has changed and you should think about your future. My family chose to move to Israel and none of us have regretted it for even a nanosecond. US poet Robert Frost famously said that, “Home is the place that when you have to go there, they have to take you in.”
That’s how I feel.