As printed in the Wetherby News on Thursday 5th October.
This week marks the centenary of the Balfour Declaration, when the British government made public its aim to establish a national home for the Jewish people. But a recent anti-Semitic attack on the Etz Chaim synagogue in Leeds reminds us why we still need all parties to speak out against anti-Semitism.
In the months leading up to the 1917 Balfour Declaration it was well reported that a number of parliamentarians spoke out against Britain pledging its support to a Jewish homeland. One of those parliamentarians, the then Secretary of State for India Edwin Montagu – himself a Jew – feared British-sponsored Zionism could result in an uprising of anti-Semitic violence in countries in which Jews had already settled and where Britain was at war.
A century later anti-Semitic violence is once again rearing its ugly head. With reported hate crime on the rise it is sadly no longer the case that those who espouse such hatred are our enemies abroad, they are now the enemy within.
During the June general election I had the pleasure of visiting Etz Chaim synagogue on a number of occasions, not only to meet the Rabbi but also to listen to the concerns of congregants. I know that this latest anti-Semitic attack will have come as no surprise to a community that is ever-cautious of such attacks, but it was, nevertheless, a premeditated attack for which the perpetrator should feel the full force of the law.
It is a sad state of affairs that hate crime has become something expectable in Britain today.
During one visit to Etz Chaim I recall Rabbi Kupperman noting that a recent survey of Jewish students in the UK highlighted that a significant number expressed reservations about showing their Jewishness on campus for fear of repercussions.
This revelation is indicative of the anti-Semitism problem in society today and it is no surprise that university campuses are acting as festering breeding grounds for it.
Today there exists a safe place in British politics in which anti-Zionist views have been allowed to casually drift in and out of anti-Semitic rhetoric. This safe space has been exacerbated by Jeremy Corbyn’s failure to act on anti-Semitism within the Labour Party. Indeed, when he welcomed Shami Chakrabarti’s independent report into anti-Semitism in the Labour Party it triggered outrage by the Board of Deputies of British Jews who described the report as a “whitewash”. Months later Jeremy Corbyn appointed Ms Chakrabarti as a Labour Peer in the House of Lords.
In politics actions have consequences and the consequence of whitewashing over embedded anti-Semitism is that it incites those who follow your movement to act without fear of consequences. For instance, last year the President of the National Student Union was heavily criticised for racist comments she made about Zionists, which led to a cross-party group of MPs warning about the growing culture of anti-Semitism on university campuses.
In Hebrew ‘Etz Chaim’ means Tree of Life and is associated in scripture with wisdom. As we mark one hundred years since the Balfour Declaration all political leaders have an opportunity to use their collective wisdom to stamp out anti-Semitic hate crime within their own parties, and in doing so they will provide an example to impressionable young students in the UK.