First the good news: We should all have been delighted to hear that the veteran campaigner for social justice, Doreen Lawrence, is to become a member of the House of Lords. Her particular struggles for justice were borne out of the tragic murder of her son Stephen in 1993.
Now the not-so-good news: The announcement about Doreen came at the same time as the Home Office campaign to root out “illegal immigrants” was launched.
The campaign was transmitted by ads on the sides of white vans travelling through areas where many Black and Asian people live. This was followed by spot checks carried out at tube stations, again in areas with high Black and Asian populations. The message of the campaign was simple: “In the UK illegally? Go home or face arrest”.
People come to Britain for many reasons. Many are here because they are fleeing persecution, many because they want a better standard of living for themselves and their families. These are two reasons why many Jews came here too. We must always be on guard against dividing people between good refugees and bad refugees, good migrants and bad migrants. Whatever the reasons people come here, the bottom line is that they must be treated with fairness and with dignity, the same as we would want and expect for ourselves.
This is not to say that immigration should not be discussed. But as Barbara Roche, chair of the cross-party Migration Matters Trust, former Home Office minister and once head girl at JFS, says, any debate needs to be based on facts and not myths. However, unhelpful comments from politicians and sensationalist headlines in some of the tabloids make this aspiration difficult.
So what are some of the myths? Migration Matters Trust lists three of them which need refuting. The first is that migration is a net economic burden. The trust explains that by the government’s own figures, as shown by the Office for Budget Responsibility, current levels of net migration of 250,000 per year actually boost annual GDP (Gross Domestic Product) by 0.5% and that this growth means more jobs and higher tax revenues, which could provide more funding for schools and hospitals.
A second myth is that Britain is being swamped by migrants. The trust points out that according to the Office for National Statistics, today’s levels of population growth are no greater than they were from the early 1900s to 1970. It reminds us that migrants currently make up just one in 10 of the UK population. This is lower than Australia, the US and Germany.
And finally, the trust wants to hit on the head the commonly-expressed view that migrants are taking all the new jobs in the UK. Again, according to the Office for National statistics, just over one in 10 new jobs are taken by migrants – the remaining nine going to British people.
Now I appreciate that statistics are tricky things, and that whatever side of an argument one is on, statistics can always be found to support one’s case. But whatever our own beliefs and prejudices suggest to us, it is important to see that issues such as migration are very complex and reducing them to the level of good or bad leaves the door open for ill-informed debate with the inevitable consequences.
So what does all this mean for us in the Jewish community? Should we be bothered if someone other than us is in the hot seat?
The short answer is, of course, that we should be plenty bothered and we need to be in the forefront of those saying this campaign is pernicious.
Though one must be careful about making analogies, our own history provides too many examples of being targeted because of who we were, and thus we should view with profound unease the sight of officials standing at tube stations trying to catch out someone they suspect is illegal – for those suspected are Black and Asian people, and that equals racial profiling.
This campaign, together with an environment in which migrants are again blamed for many of society’s ills – problems in the NHS (a rather stupefying assertion given the number of migrants who keep it going), overcrowded classrooms, housing shortages, a troubled economy – leads to a worrying equation: They take what belongs to Us and They don’t belong here in the first place.
Unless we change direction and create a more positive environment, more divisions in society will be created as we weaken the bonds of social solidarity and concern for one another on which we all, Jew and non- Jew alike, depend.