OPINION: We’re fully integrated thanks, so just wish us happy Chanukah

OPINION: We’re fully integrated thanks, so just wish us happy Chanukah

Benjamin Cohen
Benjamin Cohen

Benjamin Cohen, Chief Executive, Pink News benjamin cohen

Being a relatively connected member of both the Jewish and the gay community has its benefits; I find myself on two diversity invitation lists for our events held by our political leaders.

Going to both types of receptions has helped me meet many interesting people, but it has also given me a new perspective on how the different aspects of my identity are understood and treated by those who seek to govern our country.

At events for the gay community, including our own PinkNews Awards, which have recently been hosted by Nick Clegg, Ed Miliband and William Hague, the message is always about the progress towards equality for our own long- oppressed community.

Occasionally, such as in David Cameron’s most recent column for PinkNews, the achievements of prominent members of our community are highlighted. But on the whole, when communicating towards the gay community, politicians of all colours treat us as a fully-fledged component of British society, divided from the majority only by what we do in the privacy of our bedrooms and with that being the least significant part of our identity. It is very different, though, at events for the Jewish community.

I feel that, over the years, I have lost count of the times I’ve heard the great and the good tell us how well the Jewish community has integrated, particularly at Chunukah.

As if there was any doubt of that. The irony that the festival celebrates our ancestors refusal to integrate into Greek society and religious practices during their occupation is clearly lost on them. But the idea that a modern British Jew needs to be reminded how well he or she has integrated or that they are part of a “model” community – as more than one leading figure put it this year – seems so alien to me in the tail end of 2014.

My problem with such phrasing is that I haven’t had to integrate at all. I was born in Britain. I’ve lived here all my life and so has my mum. My dad was born in Canada, but that’s hardly a big jump culturally. On both sides of my family there’s quite a history with this country.

I imagine that it is the same for many Jewish News readers. Sure there is a strong and vibrant Israeli community, which is comprised of actual immigrants and an ultra-Orthodox community that doesn’t integrate quite so well, but these two groups comprise the minority not the majority.

Almost all Jews who live here are British-born and raised. For most of us, the values that we hold to be true are the core British values of tolerance and fair play.

I guess we’ve integrated quite well if the last leader of the Conservative Party [Michael Howard] and current leader of the Labour Party [Ed Miliband] are both Jews, probably the least interesting part of their identities or reason why they advocate the political policies that they do. It’s as if, I’m sure unintentionally, our political leaders are still in some, albeit small way, thinking of us as the ‘other’.

A group who are very much here in British life, but still different from society as a whole. That what distinguishes us is our religious heritage and not what we have achieved as fully fledged members of British society. It’s almost as we are still considered to basically be an immigrant community, which I find odd given that some of my family has lived here for six generations.

If I’m honest, the discomfort I feel might be more due to the fact that immigration looks to become one of the central battlegrounds of the next election.

Politicians such as Nigel Farage spreading a fear that Britain risks being overrun with immigrants from Eastern and Central Europe, the heritage of many Jews in Britain today. Add to this the rising incidences of antiSemitism and you see why considering us to be anything other than British might not be such a good idea.

Perhaps, instead, next year, our political leaders could celebrate us as through and through Britons on the one hand and the undoubted joy of the festival of Chunukah on the other and nothing else?

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