British Jewry in crisis

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The call for a boycott against Israeli academicians by the British University and College Union (UCU) reflects the depths to which vicious hostility against Israel has become ingrained in British society.

It is an abomination for “educators,” purporting to be liberal or progressive, to sanction a dastardly resolution boycotting academics from the only democratic state in the Middle East. It is especially bizarre because Israeli universities are pluralistic with no limitations on the enrolment of Israeli Arab students. In stark contrast, many Palestinian Arab “universities” promote a cult of death, suicide bombers and the destruction of the Jewish state.

It may be politically incorrect to describe such boycotts as anti-Semitic rather than anti-Israel. But the time has now surely come to call a spade a spade.

To demonize Israel while ignoring the brutal denial of human rights in Islamic states – with 400,000 murdered in Darfur alone – does not merely reflect distorted double standards. Notwithstanding the high proportion of turncoat Jews among boycott proponents (and even ex-Israelis), by any benchmark this must be deemed an anti-Semitic act.

The noxious atmosphere radiating venom against Israel is now so intense that it is reminiscent of what European Jews must have endured in the 1930s when they were transformed into pariahs.

Whereas the early Nazi anti-Jewish boycott initiatives were against Jewish enterprises, today these activities are directed against the surrogate of the Jewish people, the Jewish state. Of course Jews in England are not about to be herded into concentration camps. But there are undoubtedly other ominous similarities.

It is noteworthy that in the 1930s, liberals and the Left defended Jews against the Nazis. Yet today they are leading the pack against Israel and align themselves with the darkest forces of fundamentalist Islam who proudly proclaim their intent to fulfill the Nazi objective of annihilating Jews and their institutions.

The nightmare is heightened when even many of those who recognize the potency of the Islamic threat to Britain’s open society blame these Islamic excesses on Israel. In their distorted world view, had Israel not been created, Muslims would not have been humiliated and the rage against the West would not have eventuated. The extent of the grotesque distortion of reality is reflected in opinion polls which demonstrate that the average Briton has been brainwashed into believing that Israel represents the greatest threat to world peace, even exceeding Iran.

Of course, much responsibility for this negative climate rests with successive Israeli governments which failed to grapple with the war of ideas or provide guidance to Diaspora Jewish communities. The cynical outbursts of failed politicians like Avrum Burg who demonize their own country and the utilization of Israeli universities as launching pads for anti-Israeli activity by extremist post- Zionist academics also contributed toward the delegitimization of the Jewish state.

However, all this does not invalidate the obligation of Anglo Jewry to defend itself.

On previous occasions I expressed concern about the passivity of those Anglo-Jewish leaders who, as an act of faith, rely unduly on silent diplomacy and maintain a low profile out of a concern not to rock the boat.

The impotence of their proclaimed policy of “whispering” rather than “shouting” in response to anti-Semitic acts and delegitimization of Israel is exemplified by the recent painful debates over whether to hold public activities on the 40th anniversary of the Six Day War lest it provoke the enemy, and Jewish inclinations to hold protest meetings in closed areas.

Such attitudes have resulted in Anglo-Jewish leaders frequently being depicted as “trembling Israelites.” Their behavior contrasts starkly with the French Jewish leaders who displayed courage and determination in the face of anti-Semitism.

The core of the problem is that many British Jewish leaders remain in denial and either downplay or refuse to face the reality of the waves of anti-Semitism – disguised as anti- Zionism – which are engulfing them. This was reflected at the annual president’s banquet of the Board of Deputies of British Jews. At a time of profound crisis in Israel, with anti-Semitism at an all time high in England, I was reliably informed that the address by board president Henry Grunwald centered on the obligation of Anglo-Jewry to protest against the infringement of human rights in Darfur.

Of course what is happening at Darfur is an outrage to humanity to which Jews must be especially sensitive. But for a Jewish leader to refer at such an occasion almost exclusively to Darfur, virtually ignoring the fires that are burning in the Jewish world and the existential threats facing Israel, says it all.

In the wake of the reprehensible boycott resolution, the Board of Deputies stands exposed in all its nakedness. There is of course no guarantee that tougher counter action would necessarily have prevented the passage of the resolution. But we will never know, because Anglo-Jewish leaders relied principally on back channels to combat the resolution and were shocked when it was carried. Now they have launched a campaign to reverse the decision.

After the passage of such an abominable resolution, one would surely have expected every Jewish leader, every rabbi, and every activist, to stand up and express anger and disgust against such a moral outrage. Instead we heard expressions of regret, and reasoned academic responses. What were lacking were outpourings of moral indignation that such a biased and evil resolution could have been incubated by educators in the birthplace of democracy.

Of course there are voices of protest. Melanie Phillips the courageous journalist and author of the acclaimed Londonistan is having a major impact. Ronnie Fraser has been conducting a tough uphill campaign on behalf of Academic Friends of Israel. Andrew Balcombe, the chairman of the British Zionist Federation, in an interview with the BBC accused the UK of being the most anti-Semitic country in Europe. Many rank and file British Jews are willing to confront the anti-Semites but are being deterred by “leaders” who insist that strident protest activities are counterproductive.Perhaps the time has come for British Jews to bypass their timid representatives and initiate action independently.

The greatest negative fallout from the passivity of Anglo Jews is not that anti-Semitism will grow – which it undoubtedly will. It is the impact that such cowardly behavior will have on future generations of British Jews. What can one expect in the years to come from today’s youngsters who see their parents and leaders fail to confront those who demonize Israel and the Jewish people? If the official leadership of Anglo-Jewry does not change its attitude, the current malaise may only represent the tip of the iceberg.

The writer chairs the Diaspora-Israel Relations Committee of the Jerusalem Centre for Public Affairs and is a veteran international Jewish leader.
ileibler@netvision.net.il
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