OpinionU.S.-Israel Relations

The perils facing Anglo Jewry

Anglo Jewry is confronting painful challenges. The fact that “Zionist” youth can publicly express such hostility towards Israel reflects a serious breakdown in education.

Isi Leibler

More than 10 years ago, I warned that the Anglo-Jewish leadership’s passivity would lead to disastrous political consequences and negatively impact the younger generation.

I described Anglo-Jewish leaders as “trembling Israelites, whose uppermost objective was to lie low and avoid rocking the boat.” The policy for confronting anti-Israel or anti-Semitic adversaries was summed up by then-president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews Henry Grunwald as the “softly softly” approach—attempting to resolve problems by silent intercessions.

The prevailing tendency of the leadership was to ignore the fierce waves of anti-Semitism and hostility from both Muslim immigrants and the left. When the Muslim leadership called for the abolition of Holocaust Memorial Day, the Board of Deputies responded apologetically.

When London Mayor Ken Livingstone ranted his anti-Israel and anti-Semitic utterances, the Jewish leadership ignored him.

To enhance their social acceptability some Jewish leaders publicly condemned Israel, most noteworthy of whom was Sir Mick Davis, then chairman of United Jewish Israel Appeal, who proclaimed that Israel was in danger of becoming an “apartheid” state.

In 2006, Melanie Phillips wrote Londonistan, predicting the growth of Islam in Britain and the consequent dangers. She was immediately assailed by the Jewish leadership as an extremist. Yet within the decade, her prophecies were not only realized but considered understated.

British Jews, most of them long-time Labour supporters, were stunned when the Labour Party elected as its leader Jeremy Corbyn—a staunch supporter of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement who made no secret of his hatred of Zionism. He associated with anti-Semites and Holocaust-deniers and supported terrorist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah. Consequently, Jews have defected from Labour in droves.

Some Labour MPs who had expressed extreme anti-Semitic remarks, were suspended and more recently, the party diluted the accepted definition of anti-Semitism by removing references such as accusing Jews of being more loyal to Israel than their own country; claiming that Israel’s existence is racist; applying a double standard to Israel; and comparing Israelis to Nazis.

In 2015, Jonathan Arkush was elected president of the Board of Deputies. After a series of cowardly leaders, he courageously confronted anti-Semites like Corbyn and the Board of Deputies has emerged as a true representative of the community, hopefully, to be maintained by his successor, Marie van der Zyl.

Anglo Jewry faces grave threats. If an election were held today, the next prime minister would likely be an outright anti-Semite.

But an additional peril facing the community is the atmosphere from within. I refer to fringe groups like Yachad that publicly criticize Israel, more than 500 of whom signed a petition condemning the Board of Deputies for chastising Hamas and failing to deplore the Israeli killings of terrorists attempting to penetrate Israel’s borders.

But the most worrisome development is the status of the younger generation, who have been influenced to silently accept their fate.

Anti-Semitism at the universities has risen to record levels and many Jewish students avoid confrontations with anti-Israel Muslims and radicals. Even committed Jews seeking social acceptability feel the need to publicly criticize Israel and last month, more than 50 Jewish youngsters protested outside Parliament and recited the Kaddish prayer for Hamas terrorists and criticized the Jewish community for not condemning “the Israeli occupation and the disproportionate force of the Israeli regime.”

What occurred subsequently was even worse: Most of the youngsters were members of the purportedly Zionist Reform youth group, Netzer. One of them, Nina Morris-Evans, had been appointed as a leader of a youth tour of Israel, but was informed that she was now ineligible.

A petition followed addressed to the Jewish leadership from more than 100 signatories of “past and present leaders from a range of Zionist youth movements” who conveyed outrage and pledged to support a plurality of narratives, including those critical of Israel.

What was significant about this petition, was that all signers were either former or current Zionist activists, the majority of whom were from Netzer, who clearly had the imprimatur of their rabbis, most of whom are de facto non-Zionist.

These elements were supported by Davis, now chief executive of the Conservative Party, who condemned those “seeking to hound Kaddish participants from their jobs,” adding that there was an absence of Zionist leadership for which one turns “to Israel but finds little to inspire.”

The response from the leadership was muted. The Jewish Chronicle editorial adopted a neutral position, conceding that most Jews would consider the Kaddish for Hamas warped, but claimed that the open letter reflected “a potentially seismic change in the community” and called for “goodwill on all sides.”

Anglo Jewry is confronting painful challenges. The fact that “Zionist” youth can publicly express such hostility towards Israel reflects a serious breakdown in education. Together with the climate of overt anti-Semitism in the Labour Party, Jewish leadership faces its greatest threat. If it fails, all that will remain of Anglo Jewry will be clusters of haredi communities.

Isi Leibler’s website can be viewed at www.wordfromjerusalem.com. Email: ileibler@leibler.com.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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