On Monday, I will become the 47th President of the Board of Deputies – the institution that has represented our community since 1760.
So I will by no means be the first person to deal with the fact that Jews in Britain are no monolithic block, but rather a diverse collection of people with a wide variety of views. However, what we have in common is that we are well-organised, are blessed with some world class communal institutions and share a broad consensus of the issues that are important to us.
My mandate and that of the Board of Deputies is to protect and promote those things we all hold dear, wherever we are on the religious spectrum and, indeed, whether we are completely secular.
I am here to represent everyone affiliated to the Board and will spend the next three years working for the communal interest. As society has become more secular, the rich contribution that faith groups make is often underestimated and even derided. But the Jewish community in this country has, over a long period, repaid the tolerance and acceptance extended towards us with many contributions to wider society. Our core beliefs and practices have support from the law and regulatory bodies and we hope and expect that society respects our values.
We must retain the ability to practice brit milah and shechitah and there should be a wider understanding of the importance of these traditions. The fact that we have been established so long in the UK gives us the opportunity to pass on what we have learned to others who have settled here.
One of the most notable achievements of the Jewish community in this country is our integration into wider society without compromising our religious way of life.
This is something that is not to be taken for granted by faith communities.
I am very concerned that a small minority of British Muslims seem to be turning away from the path of integration and this poses a threat to community cohesion.
Jews have a role to play in demonstrating to Muslims that it is not only possible but admirable to combine British citizenship with adherence to religious values, and that these aims are not mutually exclusive.
Muslims now make up five percent of Britain’s population and this is set to rise dramatically, so this will become an ever larger issue as time goes by and one that we need to address.
In the past five years the Board has worked very closely with the Government to safeguard the security of our community and the continuation of that productive relationship is a priority, particularly in the light of the alarming resurgence of anti-Semitism.
The fact that the Government has pledged millions of pounds to enable effective security to be provided outside schools, synagogues and other institutions is welcome but cannot hide the grotesque fact that such vigilance is still required because of the threat of some people’s hatred of Jews.
This mindset must be fought vigorously and effectively countered. Another important part of the Board’s work is to support the relationship that British Jews have with Israel. While we have no responsibility for the policies of every Israeli government, we respect and appreciate its democracy.
Unfortunately, that appreciation is by no means universal. Israel occupies a disproportionate, not to say obsessive amount of attention in Parliament, in the media, on campus, in the offices of non-governmental organisations and in some churches.
It is remarkable that we see no comparable scrutiny of other conflict zones areas around the world where human rights are grossly abused and the loss of human life outstrips by a very large magnitude the number of casualties of all the conflicts between Israel and her neighbours combined. This is rank injustice and its hypocrisy needs to be addressed.
We have fought against the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement and anti-Semitism masquerading as anti-Zionism and have won some important battles. Recent examples include Rev Stephen Sizer [the vicar of Christ Church parish in Virginia Water, Surrey], who has now been curbed by his Bishop following one too many episodes where he seemed to express approval of anti-Semitic views, and the cancellation of the anti-Israel hatefest at Southampton University masquerading as an academic conference.
As recent events have shown, there are challenges that still threaten our safety and security, and there are those who do not wish to co-exist in peace with us. This is exactly where the Board is engaged. We have a democratic mandate to safeguard the issues that our community holds dear and to promote our way of life to others. It should be an interesting three years.