Fighting for freedom in 2014

By Richard Mather…

Freedom is not a gift from heaven: you must fight for it every day – Simon Wiesenthal

The summer of 2014 was a tumultuous time for Britain’s Jews. Physical attacks, vandalism, boycotts, verbal abuse and graffiti  these were some of the ways anti-Semites tried to dent the morale and security of British Jewry. And yet it is also true that the Jewish community has been galvanized by the events of 2014, and have rallied in support of Jewish businesses and the State of Israel.

In Britain, anti-Semitic incidents soared by 400 per cent in the 12 months until July. Businesses in Manchester, Whitechapel, Brixton, Brighton and Birmingham were attacked and/or forced to close because of pro-Palestinian protestors.  The black flag of jihad was spotted in Manchester and London. Several town halls in England and Scotland flew the Palestinian flag in a “gesture of solidarity.” And George Galloway, MP for Bradford West, unilaterally declared an Israel-free zone.

A number of Westminster politicians threw their weight behind the delegitimisation campaign. Baroness Warsi chose to resign her job as Foreign Office minister the day after a ceasefire came into place, claiming that the government’s approach to the Israeli-Gaza crisis is “morally indefensible and not in Britain’s interests.” Ed Miliband (in)famously condemned Israel’s actions in Gaza as “wrong and unjustifiable” and proceeded to threaten party members with the sack if they voted against a motion in the House of Commons to recognise the fictional state of Palestine.

And if politicians are partly responsible for the deteriorating situation for Jews in Britain, then the UK media must also take some of the blame. Newspapers such as The GuardianThe Independent and Metro, and broadcasters like Channel 4 and the BBC, maliciously stirred up hatred of the Jewish state during Operation Protective Edge. Indeed, journalists around the world failed to report the facts, preferring to take statements by a proscribed terrorist organisation at face value. Plus, the macabre obsession with the death toll in Gaza – combined with the media’s inability to explain why the Israeli death toll was comparatively low – fuelled the irrational belief that Israelis are genocidal maniacs.

Of greater significance was the way in which Jews came out in large numbers to stand up for Zionism and to say No to anti-Semitism. The boycott of Kedem (a Manchester store selling cosmetics made from minerals from the Israeli side of the Dead Sea) came to symbolise the plight of British Jewry. Kedem was declared an “easy target” by boycott, divestment and sanctions demonstrators who besieged the shop on a daily basis for two months. Luckily, a large contingent of Israel supporters came to the rescue. Day after day, Manchester’s Jewish community turned out to support the shop and to oppose the pro-Palestinian protesters. Jews of all creeds – from atheists to Reform to Hasidim– came together to support Kedem and the State of Israel. Despite enduring insults – such as “dirty Jewish pigs,” “ZioNazi thugs,” “baby-killers,” and “Jews killed Jesus” – the Manchester Jewish community prevailed and the protestors were beaten back.

There is a new-found confidence inside the Jewish community, particularly in Manchester. The Jewish people are becoming more organised, more vocal. Jews are taking to social media to combat anti-Semitism and Israelophobia. They are writing to newspapers and politicians. The establishment of grassroots organisations such as Northwest Friends of Israel (NWFOI) pushed the issue of anti-Semitism to the top of the political agenda, prompting high-ranking ministers and MPs, like David Cameron, George Osborne, Michael Gove, Eric Pickles, Jim Murphy and Ivan Lewis, to speak out against anti-Semitism. The Say No To Anti-Semitism Rally held in Manchester on October 19 (attended by around 2,500 people) was the high watermark of British Jewry’s fight for freedom in 2014.

Reflecting on the rally, NWFOI co-chair Anthony Dennison said it focused the Jewish community’s attention on the “very real and ever growing threat” of anti-Semitism:

“In the summer anti-Semitic attacks were up 400 per cent in the UK because anti-Semites use the actions of Israel as justification for attacks on Jews. There are very few anti-Zionists who are not anti-Semitic in my view and we need to emphasise this as much as we can.”

He added: “Another reason why the rally was so important was because it brought a very diverse community together, young and old, religious and non-religious. It also showed us that we are not fighting this battle alone.  The crowd included Christians and Kurdish Muslims which was wonderful to see and the non-Jewish speakers like Jim Murphy MP were simply inspirational.”

So where do Britain’s Jews go from here? Some talk of making Aliyah. Others say they intend to remain in Britain to continue their way of life. Of course, it is every Jew’s right to live in Israel. But it is important to remember that UK Jews are, and will continue to be, an essential part of the British social fabric. After all, the 300,000-strong British Jewish community is perhaps the oldest ethnic minority in the country and is unashamedly patriotic.

Simon Wiesenthal once said that “freedom is not a gift from heaven: you must fight for it every day.” He’s right. Whether the fight against anti-Semitism takes place in Manchester or Tel Aviv, Liverpool or Jerusalem, what matters most is that Jews fight at all.

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