We can’t be hypocrites when fighting prejudice

Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn (left) going head to head in the BBC Election Debate. (Photo credit: Jeff Overs/BBC/PA Wire via Jewish News)
Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn (left) going head to head in the BBC Election Debate. (Photo credit: Jeff Overs/BBC/PA Wire via Jewish News)

For four years most of our community was united in defending ourselves and demanding solidarity from our fellow British citizens. Whilst that work continues, we have an opportunity to learn from our painful experience to ensure we support minorities and marginalised groups.

During the fight to defeat the Corbyn cult and dispel their antisemitic conspiracy theories, we demanded a consistent application of the Macpherson principle and that a widely supported and comprehensive definition of prejudice be upheld. We expected appreciation of diversity within Jewish communities without playing good Jew/bad Jew. We insisted on respect for representative organisations and we exposed denial and whataboutery.

If those were genuine anti-prejudice positions and not piggy-backing on progressive ideas for parochial purposes, our community must continue to uphold these principles.

Whether or not we understand the context for expressions of fear and vulnerability, we should apply the Macpherson principle. As a minimum this requires we accept the starting point that a “racist incident is any incident which is perceived to be racist by the victim”. More broadly we might prioritise the perceptions of those experiencing prejudice over our views on sensitive situations.

Even if the queer, black, working class, disabled, or Muslim people you know aren’t experiencing these fears, we should show some humility and appreciation for the diversity of views and voices within these communities, respect their representative organisations, and demonstrate compassion for their concerns.

Our plea to stop Corbyn didn’t stipulate supporting Boris. Many of us are relieved the party of ‘Jews were chief financiers of the slave trade’, ‘despite living here their whole lives they don’t understand English irony’ and ‘we’ve been too apologetic about antisemitism’ are not in power. We should be a little reticent about rejoicing in an election result that has emboldened the party of “hostile environment” and later stages of the Windrush scandal, Section 28, degrading and draconian Personal Independence Payment [PiP] assessments, and a party facing allegations of anti-Muslim prejudice.

Many reports of fear and forecasts of flight among the Jewish community were features of recent times. Stories are emerging of Black people and Muslims questioning their future and safety in Boris’ Britain. Just as our fears might not necessarily have led to an exodus, we should not diminish the strength of these sentiments and should extend the sensitivity we expected and often received.

We must also tackle the prejudices that exist within our community.

It seems strange to me that our tolerance of prejudice against other minorities is much higher than the threshold someone has to cross to be considered irreparably antisemitic. When some condone or ignore positions opposing equality and inclusion of other marginalised groups, we risk undermining the solidarity needed to promote a cohesive society.

As a gay Jewish man I have experienced first-hand some of our community’s tolerance of homophobia. This has been present when community leaders enthusiastically greeted political support from a homophobic party or when there have been attempts to block inclusive education. I anticipate others could share experiences of misogyny, racism and anti-Muslim prejudice within parts of our community.

During our very recent experience of vulnerability fearing for our place in British society, we publicly and passionately called for solidarity from our fellow citizens and found allies across diverse communities.

Across the country there are vulnerable, disadvantaged and discriminated groups that fear the impact of a political reality that has replaced a political possibility we found so concerning.

Our tradition teaches us to learn from our experience of being the stranger to love the stranger as one of our own. Throughout our history it may have been tempting to withdraw to protect only ourselves. Our community has been at our best when, emerging from experiencing prejudice and persecution, we stand up for all that are fearful and facing discrimination and disadvantage.

  • This was written in a personal capacity.
About the Author
David Davidi-Brown is Chief Executive of the New Israel Fund UK, has previously worked for the JLC, UJS, UJIA, and Jewish Care, has volunteered with Limmud and KeshetUK, and is a Schusterman Fellow.
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