You could sense something big was building…
Watch the video of Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis speaking about Jewish-Muslim relations this week at the Global Forum for Combating Antisemitism and you can hear his voice grow steelier by the sentence.
After the standard stuff about prioritising interfaith dialogue and working together for the common good, he let fly: The threat to Jews from the world of Islam can only be cured within the world of Islam… Muslim leaders are “shtum” on anti-Semitism… Some refuse to even be photographed with a Jew.
Such words shouldn’t be brave. They should be basic. But brave they were, delivered by a figurehead whose lofty position usually demands tiptoeing on eggshells for fear of causing offence. Not this time. This week Mirvis had a few things to get off his chest. So he called it.
Anti-Semitism is different to Islamophobia. It is thousands of years old and rears its ugly head in the form of criticism of a country – but both Muslims and Jews have to deal with people holding stereotypical views about them. So it is even more disappointing to see Muslim anti-Semitic Jewish stereotypes are so ingrained.
Of course, truly progressive Muslim leaders exist – we like to champion them in this newspaper – but you can count those who put their head above the parapet on one hand.
A Muslim leader is yet to emerge to take the mantle of the late, great Zaki Badawi – a “cherished” friend of former Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks. Before his death in 2006, this brave enemy of anti-Semitism and isolationism, who coined the helpful term “British Islam”, told the Guardian: “I want the government to help me train better imams. It’s cheaper than having to combat the effect of bad imams.” Badawi was shocked at the number of Muslim leaders who can’t speak English being imported from Saudi Arabia. He believed British Islam must be rooted in British values.
Twelve years on, Badawi’s legacy is being squandered.
It requires a Muslim leader with the conscience and courage of the Chief Rabbi (among the first to condemn the “horrific” Punish A Muslim Day) to turn the tide. Any takers?