By Sir Mick Davis, Chairman of the Jewish Leadership Council
This has been an astounding Pesach. As we sat around our seder tables and throughout the holiday, we celebrated not just the emancipation of an oppressed people but the creation of a nation, the nascent actions of a people on the path toward self-determination.
Here in Britain, however, society convulsed as the bile of anti-Semitism rose again. First came the resignation of Oxford University Labour Club Alex Chalmers, after accusing his colleagues of anti-Semitism and a ‘poisonous’ attitude to minorities. To them, calling someone a “Zio” was commonplace’.
Second were revelations of a Labour councillor who had previously called Hitler “the greatest man in history”. Then came Abdul Zaman, a Bradford Conservative Association Deputy Chairman who was suspended after making anti-Semitic comments. Ironically, it was Bradford MP Naz Shah who filed the complaint against Zaman.
Shortly thereafter, was the election of the new NUS president, Malia Bouattia, who has a pathological hatred of Israel and Zionists. She was followed by (yes, indeed) Naz Shah, whose extraordinary tweets of the most obnoxious nature offended Jews and non-Jews alike.
And finally, enter Ken Livingstone with his crass and vile remarks, which associated Zionism with the aspirations of the most hateful man in history.
But this anti-Semitic deluge has not suddenly appeared. We have seen portends of this evil for some time now. We saw it in 2014, when people walked London’s streets raising banners of hate directed at Israel and Jews while stores selling kosher products were vandalised.
We witnessed it in France as streets from Paris to Toulouse have run red with the blood of innocents. We saw it in a recent survey, which found that some 35% of British Muslims worry about Jews’ having too much power.
We have seen it for decades as Israel’s legitimacy and right to be part of the community of nations is assailed by bigots and antisemites. Nevertheless, it is particularly jarring, as we celebrated the festival of freedom, that this Jewish community which has contributed so much to the general polity, which has been at the forefront of vanquishing fascism and defending the rights of the poor and the weak should again be exposed to such calumnies.
How should we respond?
Many of our leaders have rightly called for immediate action. Earlier this week in the Telegraph, I wrote that we must once and for all confront the modern day anti-Zionist.
I have no doubt that many who opposed the early Zionist movement, the establishment of a Jewish homeland and the state that followed were not anti-Semitic. Indeed, many Jews were found in their ranks. But that was then. Today’s reality is very different.
The anti-Zionist agenda is dominated by people who see Israel as the product of imperialism and its catalyser – the Zionist movement – as a colonial racist aberration. The often wilful characterisation of Israel as a racist state guilty of genocide and war crimes is not only outrageous but is designed to injure all Jews for whom Israel is fundamental to their Jewish identity.
In Britain, that is almost all of us.
We have a right to be outraged; a right to hold these transgressors to account.
As chairman of the Holocaust Commission I had, over and over again, to try and cope with the most horrific evidence of Hitler’s success. I sat with survivors, and while I marvelled at their capacity for life, I shared their extraordinary pain and loss.
As we mark Yom HaShoah with a blow deep to our collective solar-plexus, we are confronted with a vile distortion of history and told by an unrepentant Ken Livingstone that the person who planned and executed the destruction of European Jewry was a Zionist.
To have this man link the author of their misery to one of the great and noble movements of our age, which breathed life back into a people and gave them back a land in which they could prosper and be free, is intolerable. It is something we mustn’t accept or allow to be whitewashed.
Not now. Not ever.
A great many apologies have flooded the airwaves of late. Posts have been removed from Facebook. Offensive tweets have been deleted. I take at face value these mea-culpas. But we must question how we reached this sad place where this oldest hatred haunts our society today. Have we become complacent? Have we excused too much? Have we failed to recognise that when we indulge one form of bigotry we simply licence every form of bigotry?
So we must now resolve that we will never allow any attack on Israel’s legitimacy to go unchallenged; that we will never allow the anti-Zionist the comfort of us acquiescing to them being philo-Semitic at the same time.
Yet as we stand up for Israel, we must allow for a pluralism of views from across the Jewish community to be heard. Israel is a vibrant democracy whose very soul demands strong and informed debate both inside and outside its borders, from the left and from the right.
All who stand for the right of the Jewish people to self-determination in a country of their own are legitimate partners in our quest to rid society of the blight of anti-Zionist anti-Semitism. It is the only sure way of ensuring a Britain that is safe for all people.
That will be our lasting contribution to this great nation.