Young British Jews stake out a liberal stance on Israel. / YouTube
American and British Jewish communal institutions alike are presently grappling with the question of what to do with the “evil son” — he who, in the words of the Passover Haggadah, “by divorcing himself from the community…denies our very essence.”
In the United Kingdom, students are debating the place of Israel in Jewish life on campus, where political, cultural, and religious activities center around a confederation of Jewish societies (J-Socs) under the umbrella of the Union of Jewish Students (UJS).
Since the last UJS conference in November, it is the clear policy of the UJS that the Union should defend Israel’s right to exist regardless of whether individual members support the Israeli government. Individual J-Socs are expected to have a conversation about Israel — not only the modern state, but Israel over 3000 years of Jewish history — and J-Socs are encouraged and advised to effectively counter the BDS movement on campus where necessary.
But Gabriel Webber — a member of Brighton & Sussex J-Soc — recently wrote in defense of a motion that failed at that conference, one that called for a wall of separation between Israel advocacy and the activities of J-Socs. While “all Jewish students want to go to a J-Soc where they can hang out with fellow Jewish students, to eat Jewish food and to be an active member of their religion or culture,” there remains a minority that don’t “want to wave flags and engage in an active campus-based fight against BDS.”
Tania Ward and Nicola Pettit / Courtesy of Nicola Pettit
(Haaretz) — Tania Ward and Nicola Pettit will make history this Saturday when they become one of the first same-sex couples to legally marry in Britain.
More than that, their marriage will be among the first to receive a Jewish blessing, as Liberal and Reform streams prepare for a flurry of simchas to follow the change of law.
Since 2005, the United Kingdom has allowed civil partnerships which give the same rights and responsibilities as traditional marriage.
Campaigners, however, continued to lobby for full equality, facing opposition from conservative politicians and religious communities despite broad public backing. The new law comes into effect on Saturday March 29.
The couple, who live in southern England’s seaside Brighton resort, one of the country’s most bohemian centers of LGBT life, met when a mutual friend set them up on a blind date six-and-a-half years ago. “And that was that, really,” says 27-year-old Nicola.
Young British Jews who support the Sign on the Green Line Campaign. / YouTube
Throughout our history, young Jewish voices have played a vital role in shaping the Jewish story. Young people lead and teach other young people and take on significant leadership roles. Youth empowerment is highly valued, and it was with this feeling of empowerment that a group of 16 young British Jews — of which we are a part — stood up and asked British Jewish communal organizations to “Sign on the Green Line.”
Education is a core Jewish value, and we are simply asking for a fair and balanced education in regards to Israel. We, the members of the Sign on the Green Line Campaign, are asking for Jewish schools, synagogues, youth movements and Jewish communal organizations to only use maps that show the 1949 armistice lines. Why? Because we believe that our community is presenting us with inaccurate maps of Israel, which are ill-informing us as to the reality of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The Jewish community often worries about young Jews and their lack of Israel involvement. But how can we possibly expect young people to get involved with a country about which we do not properly teach them?
Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner / YouTube
“I believe that we are now at one of those critical, pivotal moments in our history,” Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner, Senior Rabbi to the Movement for Reform Judaism, recently informed the Board of Deputies of British Jews. “It’s sneaking up on us. What is happening is an upheaval that threatens our cohesive fabric.”
American and British Jewry share the same fate. On one end of the religious spectrum, through intermarriage and assimilation there is a drifting away from Jewish identity. In the United Kingdom, the preliminary findings of the Institute for Jewish Policy Research’s National Jewish Community Survey showed that under half of intermarried Jews attend a Passover seder, one third fast on Yom Kippur, and only 18% attend a Friday night dinner most weeks.
In the center of the religious spectrum, British Jews under 40 are more likely to value belief in God or marrying within the Jewish faith than their parents, yet some don’t have the knowledge or language of Judaism to live a fully Jewish life. And, at the other extreme, the burgeoning, young Haredi community is displacing an aging, secular or traditional population. Today in the UK, nearly one third of all Jewish children under the age of five are born to Haredi parents.
Nicolas Anelka, center, celebrates a goal before flashing the anti-Semitic ‘quenelle.’ / Getty Images
It has been almost three weeks since West Bromwich Albion striker Nicolas Anelka celebrated scoring two goals against West Ham United by doing the quenelle, the reverse Nazi salute popularized in France by comedian Dieudonné M’bala M’bala.
Yet Anelka remains unpunished. He continues to play, in fact. Albion’s then-head coach Keith Downing refrained from condemning him immediately after the soccer match, and in the days that followed the club itself held back as well. Albion instead released a clumsy statement, which acknowledged that the quenelle “has caused offense in some quarters.” Albion “asked Nicolas not to perform the gesture again.”
But for the Jewish community — including the owner of the club’s shirt sponsor Zoopla — in the United Kingdom, it is the lack of response from the Football Association (FA) and anti-racism campaign organizations like Kick It Out that has disappointed and caused upset.
Palestinians protest on the anniversary of the Balfour Declaration in 2013. / Getty Images
In 2014, commemoration of the First World War on the one-hundredth anniversary of its commencement will be inescapable. So, too, will the debate over the merits of the miserable and bloody conflict that took the lives of over 16 million soldiers and civilians, crippled an entire generation of Europeans, and begat the infamous Treaty of Versailles.
In the United Kingdom, this conversation has already begun and has spiralled off so as to encompass another product of the Great War: the Balfour Declaration. At the end of last year, the Palestine Return Centre launched in Parliament a campaign called, “Britain, It’s Time To Apologize,” requesting an international voice to call on Her Majesty’s Government “to apologize to the Palestinian people, for either wilfully or carelessly failing to protect their human and political rights, while under British protection.”
Leaving aside the Palestinians for a moment, in the first instance any campaign against the Balfour Declaration must be treated with great suspicion. After all, that declaration was more than a government memorandum. It was the first declaration of its kind from a world power in support of the Zionist idea of Jewish autonomy and self-rule in Palestine.
More importantly, it was a legal instrument, incorporated into the Mandate for Palestine ratified by the League of Nations in July 1922, in which it was stated that Britain as overseer would be responsible for fostering political, administrative, and economic conditions that would secure “the establishment in Palestine of a National Home for the Jewish people.”
The Limmud conference starts today and continues through Thursday. The Forward is exclusively providing the live stream of the event in North America.
Given that The Daily Mail has never liked anyone whose politics are to the left of General Franco, it is hardly surprising that they would not care for Ralph Miliband or indeed his son, Ed.
After all, Ralph Miliband was one of the foremost English socialist thinkers and writers of the 20th century. Miliband favoured the upending of the existing class structure and the dismantling of the existing establishment including the Church, the Lords, and the business elite. He also favoured nationalisation of key industries with a view to “improving the efficiency of a capitalist economy,” much to the chagrin to Mail, who wrote that he “chose to ignore the lamentable performance of nationalisation, which proved to be anything but efficient.”
“The Man Who Hated Britain” – the Mail’s recent feature on Miliband – labors (forgive the pun) boringly and boorishly on his politics and its implications for what his son might do if he were Prime Minister.
“But how passionately he would have approved today of his son’s sinister warning about some of the policies he plans to follow if he ever becomes Prime Minister,” Geoffrey Levy writes. “Such as giving councils draconian new powers to seize into public ownership land held by developers who fail to build on it.” The horror.
And yet were the piece merely a castigation of the professor’s unabashed socialist politics, then that would be fine, insofar as it falls within the Mail’s usual remit.
But in “The man who hated Britain,” there are evidently other motivations at work. Miliband is described as “the immigrant boy whose first act in Britain was to discard his name Adolphe because of its associations with Hitler, and become Ralph, and who helped his father earn a living rescuing furniture from bombed houses in the Blitz.” For rescuing, read pilfering.
“There is a problem in my country… and this problem is the Jew,” Borat chanted famously. But it may as well be David Baddiel singing. Who is David Baddiel, you ask? He is a mid-table British comedian who has initiated a campaign to expunge what he calls the “Y-word” from British football chants. The Y-word, or according to Baddiel, who is himself Jewish, the word that shall not be named, is actually the relatively innocuous, “Yid.”
In origin the Yiddish word for “Jew,” Yid has sometimes been used by anti-Semites to denote displeasure with those of the Jewish persuasion. This appears to have been the case in the early part of the 20th century when a large and concentrated Jewish population was able to take the train quickly and conveniently to Tottenham in North London where Tottenham Hotspur (“Spurs”) played. During the 1960s and 1970s, rival teams’ fans began to call Tottenham the “Yids,” and in an unusual moment of cultural solidarity, Tottenham fans, Jewish and Gentile alike, said, okay, we’ll be the Yids.
With that developed a homegrown, organic sensibility that Tottenham was a “Jewish” team, a sensibility has remained until today. Their fans call themselves the “Yid Army,” chant the same during games, and call each other and the team’s players, “Yiddos.” The use of the term is a whole hog reappropriation of a negative usage, transformed into absolute positivity and brotherhood.
Baddiel is correct to point out that most Spurs supporters are not Jewish. As a result, it may be the first time in history that a large group of Gentiles has willingly taken on, with great pride, a type of Jewish identity. It is, as noted by Sleeper’s Sleep on the fansite cartilagefreecaptain.com, an “I am Spartacus” moment in the face of taunting, bigoted abuse from other team’s fans, the result was, “some of us are Yids? No. All of us are Yids.” This attitude is what has made many of us around the world Spurs fans and frankly, the Jews could have used a lot more attitudes like this throughout their history.
But Baddiel doesn’t think so and he’s convinced the Football Association to look into the matter. Instead of investigating the opposing fans anti-Jewish rhetoric, Baddiel wants Spurs fans to stop calling themselves Yids. Blaming the victim, apparently, is easier than shaming the perpetrators.
Two countries; two chief rabbinates. But the institutions could hardly be more different.
I have spent part of this summer observing the Chief Rabbi elections in Israel, and part in the U.K., hearing the opinions of British Jews about the end of the Jonathan Sacks era, with their Chief Rabbi (or strictly speaking the Chief Rabbi they share with the Commonwealth) due to retire on Sunday after two decades. The London-based congregational rabbi Ephraim Mirvis will replace him.
Sacks’ great success has been showing a dignified face of Judaism to non-observant Jewry and to non-Jewish Britain. He is famous for his short “Thought for the Day” monologues on BBC Radio and for his writing in the mainstream media. Sacks is a popular public intellectual far beyond the Jewish community, as he seems to know how to say the right things to inspire without pushing his beliefs.
In fact, the common tongue-in-cheek comment about him among Orthodox Jews is that he has been “Chief Rabbi for the Gentiles” — revered outside of his obvious following, Orthodox Jewry, but failing to resonate in this observant community.
The Israeli Chief Rabbinate has precisely the opposite orientation — it represents Orthodoxy and fails to communicate its message beyond.
The tradition of English liberty which runs through the political culture is a deep one, traceable back to John Milton’s Areopagitica, published in 1644, through Thomas Paine’s The Age of Reason and John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty. The nub of it was best put by Mill when he wrote, “If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.”
It is with this in mind that the recent decision by the British government to pre-emptively exclude Pamela Geller from travelling the United Kingdom should be considered. Geller, it must recalled as often as possible, is a spiteful and malicious person. Founder of Stop Islamisation of America and proprietor of the Atlas Shrugs blog, she has used her public platform to minimise the Bosnian genocide, label secular, democratic Kosovo a “militant Islamic state in the heart of Europe,” and perpetuate the myth that President Obama is the secret love child of Malcolm X.
And then there’s Islam, about which she has said so much it’s hard to filter. “There are no moderates. There are no extremists. Only Muslims,” she said. “Devout Muslims should be prohibited from military service. Would Patton have recruited Nazis into his army?” she enquired on another occasion.
Geller has expressed support for Geert Wilders and the thuggish English Defence League, with whom she shares concerns about the so-called Islamisation of Europe, even nefariously calling upon Jews to stand up with them in this struggle.
But even considering the foregoing, or especially considering it, withdrawing Geller’s right to speak and address a rally organised by the EDL in the London neighborhood of Woolwich violated English liberal tradition. It is precisely this sort of application of state power to silence another that Mill deemed ‘noxious’ in any circumstance, whether “exerted in accordance with public opinion, than when in or opposition to it.” The state, rather, must protect against “the tyranny of the prevailing opinion and feeling; against the tendency of society to impose, by other means than civil penalties, its own ideas and practices as rules of conduct on those who dissent from them.”
Geller’s case would be especially troubling because the government not only proscribed her based on what she had said but what she might say. If she were to repeat her slurs against Muslims of the type previously exhibited, she would be “committing unacceptable behaviours”, the Home Secretary deemed. This type of prior restraint goes against the grain of English liberty. Mill questioned rightly what authority has the right to decide what words are appropriate or inappropriate, what behaviour is acceptable or unacceptable. “They have no authority to decide the question for all mankind, and exclude every other person from the means of judging.”
Two British members of parliament from the centrist Liberal Democratic Party seemed to be doing their utmost to dissuade Jews, friends of Israel, and generally right-minded peoples from sticking with their already-damaged party through to the next election.
First, during a debate on changes to the national curriculum, Sir Bob Russell thought it would be an opportune moment to ask the Education Secretary, Michael Gove, “On the assumption that the 20th century will include the Holocaust, will he give me an assurance that the life of Palestinians since 1948 will be given equal attention?”
Russell’s unlettered and questionably-motivated equivocation was swiftly condemned by the Jewish Leadership Council, whose chief executive Jeremy Newmark who labelled them “a shocking piece of Holocaust denigration. There is simply no comparison between the two situations.”
Karen Pollock, Chief Executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust, added that “to try to equate the events of the Holocaust with the conflict in the Middle East is simply inaccurate as well as inappropriate.”
Then on Saturday, David Ward, another Lib-Dem MP, Tweeted: “Am I wrong or are am I right? At long last the Zionists are losing the battle — how long can the apartheid State of #Israel last?”
His tenor bears a noticeable resemblance not only to the discourse of anti-Semites who use ‘Zionists’ in place of ‘Jews’ to mask their latent prejudices, but also the former Lib Dem peer Baroness Tonge. In 2012, Tonge was finally resigned the whip after saying that Israel would “not last forever” and would “reap what they have sown.”
UPDATE: David Ward has been suspended from the Liberal Democrats until September 13 in reaction to his comments about the “apartheid state of Israel.”
In a letter to Ward, the party’s chief whip Alistair Carmichael explained that his comments “questioning the continued existence of the State of Israel fails the test of language that is “proportionate and precise.’” This, in combination with remarks back in January which accused ‘the Jews’ of failing to learn the lessons of the Holocaust brought “the party into disrepute” and harmed “the interests of the party”, Carmichael said.
Ward’s suspension from the Liberal Democrats coincides with Parliament’s summer recess – although he will be suspended for almost two months, this period only accounts for a few days of parliamentary business. Jewish community organisations, therefore, while welcoming the punishment were disappointed with its toothlessness.
In a statement, Jeremy Newmark, Chief Executive of the Jewish Leadership Council said: “There are serious questions as to whether this move came swiftly enough and whether it goes far enough.”
The British Department for Education (DfE) today announced a U-turn on its previously-proposed policy that would have limited the scope of Jewish elementary schools in the United Kingdom to teach Hebrew as a modern foreign language.
As The Forward previously reported, under controversial plans released last December as part of an overall reform of the national curriculum, the DfE mandated that beginning in September 2014, pupils aged 7 to 11 would only be allowed to learn one of either French, German, Spanish, Italian, Mandarin, Latin, or ancient Greek as their second language in state-run schools.
The DfE stated that the aim of this policy was to prevent “any potential proliferation of very low take-up languages, and would focus schools’ attention on a sample of important languages.” A spokesperson for the Department told the Forward at the time that, “We want to give young people the skills they need to compete in a global jobs market.”
Such a policy, however, would have been destructive for the proliferation of Hebrew in government-aided Jewish day schools. The teaching of either classical or modern Hebrew would have been pushed to the margins in order to allow for the obligatory teaching of one of the seven permitted languages. The teaching of foreign languages in British schools is already compromised by the amount of time allocated to other subjects, including literary, numeracy, science, and the humanities.
Under the altered proposals which follow a public consultation, the DfE now states that in primary education, “teaching may be of any modern or ancient foreign language and should focus on enabling pupils to make substantial progress in one language.” This same policy also applies to the teaching of modern foreign languages up until the age of 14.
The DfE adds that, “If an ancient language is chosen the focus will be to provide a linguistic foundation for reading comprehension and an appreciation of classical civilisation.”
Prior to Holocaust Memorial Day — officially commemorated across Europe on Sunday — a Book of Commitment was placed in the British House of Commons for Members of Parliament to sign. The purpose of this simple act is to “publicly commit both to remembering the Holocaust and to working towards a future in which prejudice and hatred are never again allowed to gain a foothold in society.”
After placing his name in the Book, however, David Ward (MP for Bradford East) felt it necessary to issue an addendum of sorts on his website. His postlude could hardly have been more opposite to the spirit of his earlier dedication to tolerance and reflection, replicating as they did what Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks calls one of the “great slanders of our time: that Jews, victims of the Holocaust, are now perpetrators of a similar crime.” Here is what Ward wrote:
Having visited Auschwitz twice - once with my family and once with local schools - I am saddened that the Jews, who suffered unbelievable levels of persecution during the Holocaust, could within a few years of liberation from the death camps be inflicting atrocities on Palestinians in the new State of Israel and continue to do so on a daily basis in the West Bank and Gaza.
In the hours following the public dissemination of his comments, instead of showing the sort of shame and penitence such barefaced bigotry demands, Ward reached for his shovel, thumping and scratching at the scarred earth beneath him. Initially, Ward attempted to utilise a quote from Elie Wiesel in his defence.
“Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented,” he cited in part. Wiesel did not much care for this: “Although he quotes me correctly, I am outraged that he uses my words at the same time he utters shameless slanders on the State of Israel.”
As soon as I heard the name of Great Britain’s newly named chief rabbi, I knew it sounded familiar. I met Ephraim Mirvis back in 1986, when I was a foreign correspondent for the Philadelphia Inquirer based in London, and he was the relatively new chief rabbi of Ireland.
I was young for my job. So was he.
We met when I interviewed him for a story about the remaining Jews of Ireland, prompted by the closing of one of Dublin’s three synagogues and the opening of a tiny museum about Ireland’s Jews. It seemed a perfect metaphor for what was happening to this small but determined community: its young were leaving, as Ireland’s young do, and the elders were struggling to do more than live out their own history.
Ancient Greek and Latin, yes. Hebrew, no.
That’s the headline from a new British government proposal that excludes Hebrew from plans to encourage primary school children to learn a second language. The plan, which remains under discussion and would come into effect in September 2014 if implemented, would mandate that pupils aged 7 to 11 learn one of either French, German, Spanish, Italian, Mandarin, Latin or ancient Greek, as to “make foreign languages a key part of every child’s education, and to stop the slide in standards and take-up.”
In response to further enquires, a spokesperson for the Department for Education (DfE) told the Forward: “We want to give young people the skills they need to compete in a global jobs market. This is why we introduced the Foreign Languages Plan, which will ensure that every primary school child has a good grasp of a language by age 11.
“Whilst French, German and Spanish were the modern languages identified by respondents to the consultation as the most popular choices, we have been clear that primary schools will be free to teach any other language.”
The DfE’s consultation document indicates the government hopes the latter is not the case and aims to prevent “any potential proliferation of very low take-up languages, and would focus schools’ attention on a sample of important languages.”
It was only a matter of time before someone would ask whether the international scandal engulfing Rupert Murdoch’s empire was good for the Jews. And if you feel compelled to ask, the answer is almost always “no.”
JTA’s Ron Kampeas essentially posed the question in a story contending that some supporters of Israel are worried that a diminished Murdoch presence may mute the strongly pro-Israel voice of many of the publications he owns.
“His publications and media have proven to be fairer on the issue of Israel than the rest of the media,” Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice-chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, is quoted as saying. “I hope that won’t be impacted.”
Well, I hope so, too, I guess. But that is hardly what should be on our minds as Jews and as citizens as we watch the media magnate testify before Parliament by dancing around any genuine personal responsibility for the despicable journalism practiced by one of his flagship newspapers. And as we read stories of government corruption in Britain reaching to the highest levels of law enforcement and into the storied halls of 10 Downing Street. And as we hear of real people, ordinary people, harmed by a corporate culture that privileged power and aggression over respect for privacy and common decency.
Britain is Israel’s ally, too, and its current government is being rocked to the core by this scandal. Is that good for the Jews?