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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

A week in Egypt England

[A potentially offensive post.  I apologize in advance.  You've been warned]

Every week the table outside my synagogue is cluttered with 'parsha sheets' and other printed material dealing with the Torah portion of the week.  This week has been no exception.

In one of the sheets, a gentleman named Yosef Y. Jacobson makes a fairly obvious point that those who read the Bible in translation miss the multi-dimensional nuances of the meaning-rich Hebrew text.  As an example he draws the reader's attention to a line in this week's parsha (Va'eira) which is typically rendered as follows in English translation:

"Therefore, say to the children of Israel:  I am G-d, and I shall take you out from under the burdens of egypt;  I shall rescue you from their slavery; I shall redeem you."

Mr., or perhaps Rabbi (he wasn't identified with an honorific), Jacobson points out that the Hebrew word 'Sivlot' which is usually translated as 'burdens', can also be translated as the plural of 'tolerance'... as in "I am G-d; and I shall take you out from [having to] tolerate Egypt".  He goes on to say that "burden and tolerance are connected, since tolerance is a form of burden carrying; of accepting a challenging reality."

His point is that while we usually view the story of the Exodus from Egypt as a tale of redemption from physical slavery, it is also very much (maybe more so) a tale of deliverance from psychological bondage. We lived for generations having to tolerate our status as a hated minority in Egypt, having to go through the sort of mental gymnastics known to all hated minorities in order to tolerate our dismal placement at the very bottom of society. 

If you think I'm wrong, then why was it so hard for Moses to convince the Jews to leave Egypt?  If you were in prison and someone opened the door and told you to run, would you ask questions? Would you need to be convinced???  And even after the Israelites were out, why did so many of them rebel against Moses and suggest to him that they had it better when they were in Egypt?

Although I am woefully ill-equipped to offer any original scholarship on religious texts (which is why I seldom do so), I have offered this preamble because it gives a perfect a lead-in to my thoughts after having interacted with a very wide cross-section of the British Jewish community for a week.

First of all, I should point out that I am writing this in full knowledge that this post, like any sweeping generalization, will be fundamentally wrong on a number of levels... and will offend many who read it.  

I freely acknowledge that a week is really insufficient to gain more than an initial impression. But impressions - especially first ones - have value, and are often to be trusted.

I also need to mention that having grown up in the U.S., I have absolutely no idea what it's like to live in a country with a relatively small Jewish community.  Even if you happen to live in a small American Jewish community, the overall American Jewish population is numbered in the millions, and is extremely vocal about political matters... especially where relations with Israel are concerned.

Any time an election rolls around in the US, if there are even a few Jews among the potential constituents, it is incumbent upon the candidate to give a full public accounting of his past voting record and current views vis-a-vis the State of Israel. 

In places where there are large blocks of Jewish votes at stake (think New York, Florida Illinois and California), American candidates actually go to embarrassing lengths to prove their unqualified support for the Jewish State... even to the point of peppering their speeches with Yiddishisms and Borscht-belt humor (picture gray-haired Presbyterians and Quakers trying valiantly to pronounce Chutzpah and Tuches).

In short, being pro-Israel in the U.S. is seen as having political value.

So it came as a bit of a surprise when I found the tiny U.K. Jewish community (less than 300,000 strong as of the last census), to be absolutely absent from public discourse in support of Israel.  In England, there seems to be a political price to pay for being pro-Israel... and if anything, there seems to be value on the side of those who are critical of Israel.

As I mentioned in a previous post, Jews in the U.K. seem to be fairly equally split between being actively critical of the Jewish State, and being apologetically supportive of it (albeit in the safe privacy of their homes and synagogues). 

Those who are apologetically supportive often utter phrases like "Of course I love and support Israel, but...", at which point they will list off Israel's real or imagined human rights abuses and crimes of occupation, all of which, they will tell you, make it extremely difficult for them to defend Israel to their non-Jewish friends and co-workers. 

Those who are openly critical of Israel simply dispense with the preamble about supporting Israel and launch right into a barely controlled rage about the apartheid-like imprisonment of the Palestinian people, and present thinly veiled justifications for all manner of terror against Israel by the Arabs.  This is all the more shocking because it is delivered in extremely cultured, terribly polite, perfectly constructed paragraphs that only well-educated Brits seem able to manage.

For the most part, the British Jewish community seems to keep their collective heads down and try to fit in with their countrymen as best they can.  Sadly, in many cases this means trying to be more British than the Brits.  

Not only is there a serious problem with passive anti-Semitism in the UK, but active anti-Semitic attacks seem also to be quite prevalent and on the rise. 

While I was at Limmud I noticed that security was being handled by an organization called CST.  They were literally everywhere on campus, guarding all the doors, wandering the grounds, checking IDs of everyone going in or out.  On the one hand, it was nice to see them taking security so seriously.  But on the other, we were in the middle of Coventry on a closed university campus during Christmas break.  Did anyone even know/care that there were Jews in the area?!

When I asked someone about this they explained that CST was the organization that guarded the synagogues all over London (and presumably in other places in the UK) and that 'normal' life for British Jews was not something an American or Israeli Jew could easily understand.

I was shocked.  In the US there are occasional hate crimes against JCCs and synagogues... mostly of the spray-painted Swastika sort.  But in England I was seeing a relatively small Jewish community where blanket security was required everywhere that Jews gathered in any numbers.

I was further shocked when I got to London and started wandering around Golders Green.  No, I'm not talking about the Salt Beef Sandwich at Blooms (which was a crime of a different sort... don't get me started!).  No, I'm talking about the fact that in literally every Jewish shop, restaurant, bakery, Judaica store, etc. there was a little display on the counter next to the cash register where customers were encouraged to take one of the following cards:

[Front of Card]

[Back of Card]

This kind of card could only exist in a community that feels threatened and vulnerable. They may not be in imminent physical danger (although the need for cards such as these suggests otherwise), but you'd have a hard time convincing me that the U.K. Jewish community isn't experiencing a social, emotional and psychological threat.  They are clearly tolerating a great deal of anti-Semitism as they go about their daily lives... trying to act as if everything is fine.

I hate to make the comparison to pre-war Germany, because the analogy is patently unfair.  Certainly England is not going to start loading her Jews onto cattle cars anytime soon.  But at the level of anti-Semitism that German Jews were forced to tolerate in the late '20s and early '30s (i.e. well before the really physical threats to their safety materialized), they reacted by keeping their heads down, and managed to convince themselves that they were more German than the Germans... that everything was basically okay.

Which brings us back to Egypt and Mr. (or Rabbi) Jacobson's observation that the difference between a physical and psychological burden hangs on the nuanced translation of a simple Hebrew word.

Personally, I think that much of the left-leaning, knee-jerk anti-Israel rhetoric coming from the UK Jewish community today can trace its source as much to British Jewry's need to fit in (i.e. to be more British than the Brits), as to any of Israel's real or imagined misdeeds.  England's Jews seem (to me) to be captives of anti-Semitism ... forced to tolerate an oppressed status without fully acknowledging it to themselves. 

When I left the U.K. I did so with a profound appreciation for the relative freedom I have experienced throughout my life; both in my American youth, and in my Israeli adulthood.  Once one has tasted such freedom, the barest whiff of oppression can't be mistaken for anything else.

I'm going to stop here because I sense I've probably already said far too much.

Posted by David Bogner on January 12, 2010 | Permalink


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I could possibly track down one or another inaccuracy, but that'd be besides the point, which was your impression. Let me tell you, as a non-jew, that the situation is about that bad or even worse all across Europe. Surely, one might try to blame it on the influx of muslim people, but I think the real answer is much easier: Europeans are latent anti-semitists. Hope is it stays with the "latent", but somehow I can't be really sure about it...

Posted by: Carsten | Jan 12, 2010 6:23:48 PM

In my one visit to Golders Green, I experienced something that for me exemplifies what you're writing about.

I was going to walk to a particular shul on Shabbat morning, and the family I was staying by told me that they didn't rely on the eruv in the area. Not knowing the details, I figured I'd go along with what they told me, and prepared to wear my talit to shul instead of carrying the talit bag. But then my hosts warned me, and said - you can't do that, if you wear a talit on top of your coat, you'll be targeted by antisemites. Again, I didn't want to make trouble, so I put my talit on under my coat.

I then walked to shul, and indeed all the men walking had their talitot under their coats. But they also were wearing the typical black hat, black coat and had pretty long beards! I can't imagine that any lurking antisemite couldn't pick them out as Jews.

So I felt similar to you (I think). I couldn't really understand how they could live like that. Either be a proud Jew, or leave, or I guess fully assimilate. But why fool yourself that way?

Posted by: Dave (Balashon) | Jan 12, 2010 6:38:57 PM

Bravo. Much of the irrational Israel bashing among Jews in the UK seems to stem from the need to separate themselves from Israel, which is generally despised among the British intelligentsia, to say nothing of the Muslim underclass. If there is a silent majority of Jews in the UK who support Israel then they are very good at keeping their mouths shut.

The most virulent, hypocritical and self-righteous Israel bashing that I've encountered has come from British Jews. It's understandably hard to adopt a rational and balanced view towards Israel when one lives in an intellectual culture permeated with an inferiority complex towards America and not so old grudges against Jews from the Mandate period. Still, lets call this behavior for what it is (or to use an Israeli idiom, lets call the dog by its name): depraved cowardice and hypocrisy.

I grew up in the USSR under a totalitarian government that demonized Israel constantly, just like Israel is demonized in any Arab country today. A peep from a Jew in support of Israel or Zionism could destroy his life. Yet Jews kept their dignity and behind closed doors among the Jewish intelligentsia there was practically unanimous admiration for the state of Israel and love for the people of Israel. So pardon me if I don't have much patience for the Jewish auto-antisemites in the UK. There is no excuse for such perfidy and intellectual dishonesty.

Posted by: Alex | Jan 12, 2010 6:48:29 PM

I haven't lived in London for years, so I may be talking out of my hat, but ...

While everything you write rings pretty true to me, it's possible that the Jewish community on average isn't quite as left-leaning as it may have seemed to you.

The attendees at Limmud are, in the broadest sense, more likely to be tolerant, open, and accepting of various streams of Judaism. If they weren't, it would be a challenge to really take advantage of Limmud.

That said, it follows that the more strictly Orthodox crowd who are less willing to enjoy a heterogeneous event like Limmud would be under-represented amongst the people you met - and they, I suspect, are more likely to have openly pro-Israel views.

That doesn't discount your observations -- anti-Israel rhetoric is very prevalent in both the Jewish & non-Jewish communities -- but your statistical sample may have been a bit skewed.

Posted by: Andy Levy-Stevenson | Jan 12, 2010 7:00:48 PM

Great post! Our ability to lie to ourselves...

Posted by: Craig | Jan 12, 2010 7:42:02 PM

David, I don't think you were imagining it. As an ex-Brit, I could identify with almost your entire description. I have only one or two minor quibbles, which have been addressed in the above comments. Firstly, I don't think anti-Israel feelings, or simply a cold neutrality, are near universal. There is a very solid core of very pro-Israel Jews, including several relatively noisy activists. These are mostly found in the Orthodox community - think Bnei Akiva.

I also think that you have the reason backward for the UK Jewish community's keeping their head down. It's not so much that they want to fit in. It's rather that the Jewish community is so small that it feels much more vulnerable than the American community. Plus of course that the British in general are much more antisemitic than the average American.

Otherwise, an excellent article.

By the way, the CST have a website: http://www.thecst.org.uk/ and a blog: http://www.thecst.org.uk/blog/. They do sterling work.

Posted by: annie | Jan 12, 2010 8:13:35 PM

Your article almost brought me to tears because you reminded me of one of the reasons I left England.

Although all our Christian friends were eager to learn about Judaism and Israel I was told by Jewish acquaintances of all ages that being so openly Jewish and proudly Zionist was reckless, even dangerous. They suggested that I should have kept the fact secret from my (non-Jewish) school friends.

And many members of our congregation seemed to personally blame my Israeli father every time Israel did something 'wrong' - 1982 was a difficult year for us.

Most Jewish members of Parliament are anti-Zionist to some degree or another. For some this is a natural tendency but with others it seems to be a pathetic attempt to distance themselves from Britain's non-existent Israel lobby.

And your comparison to pre-war Germany is apt because despite this desperate attempt to keep a low profile Antisemitism in England is getting much worse.

When I visited England in 2004 I laughed at friends who advised me not wear my Star of David. Last year Summer we visited England again but my Star of David stayed on my bedside table here in Israel.

Posted by: Esther | Jan 12, 2010 9:18:28 PM

As another Ex-Brit, I think your post is pretty damn good. I also endorse the comments from Andy, Annie & Esther. The reality is that the community is under constant media pressure.

For example, the most common source of internet news is the BBC. What would you think about Israel from reading their material?

The DeadTree Press is even worse. The national newspapers, led by the Guardian and backed up to the hilt by the Independent, are vitriolic in their anti-Israel stance. The Scottish press - the Scotsman and the Herald - are sometimes as bad; even when there is something that's mildly pro Israel, the poisonous responses in the letter columns can be guaranteed.

There is, in the non Jewish community, a kind of group think which says "Israel = bad". Years of media campaigns against Israel have taken their toll. It's not surprising so many Jews fall into line.

There is strong support for Israel - as commented above - inside the orthodox ranks, like B'nei Akivah. (And there are a fair few who are traditional and who quietly go about their support of Israel - though this tends to prove your point.) Unfortunately, given that many of Israel's strongest supporters in the UK make aliyah, it's difficult to see how the situation can be improved.

Posted by: Ellis | Jan 12, 2010 10:02:10 PM

Hi David,
Interestingly, I've been hearing the same thing from British and French Jews I'm with this week. I'm covering an event in Jamaica, The Jewish Diaspora of the Caribbean conference, for the Jerusalem Report. Even more interesting, we're experiencing nothing but real warmth and concern from Jamaica's black community. I'm walking around (with others) wearing a kippah, talking to locals and even speaking with chefs about food arrangements that meet kosher requirements. It's heartwarming how people are bending over backwards for us. While the European situation is undoubtedly a combination of latent antisemitism and Muslim meddling, it's profoundly moving to be in a place where antisemitism appears to be non-existent. Go figure.

Anyway, if anyone is interested, I'm live blogging and looking for Caribbean Jews in Israel and in the galut to interview.

Posted by: Morey | Jan 12, 2010 10:21:19 PM

There is another thing which I forgot in my previous comment. You wrote: "I hate to make the comparison to pre-war Germany, because the analogy is patently unfair.". You are too harsh on yourself. It is not an unfair comparison at all. My father grew up in pre-war Germany and made it out with his parents and siblings by the skin of his teeth. He himself has said that the atmosphere in England reminds him of 1938, and his contemporaries agree with him. Thankfully my parents made aliya a number of years ago.

Posted by: annie | Jan 12, 2010 11:21:57 PM

My experiences during my year-long working stay in London back in 2001/2002, included: Being physically attacked twice in the middle of good Northern London "Jewish" suburbs by young white trash yobbo's(Although the motive may have been simple robbery rather than anti-semitism since they stole my wallet the one time and I managed to get away unscathed the second time). This after have grown up in South Africa without anything like that ever happening to me there. On the flip-side I was fortunate enough to attend a 50,000 person strong pro-Israel rally in Trafalgar square where Jews were bussed in from literary all over England.

Posted by: Bryan | Jan 12, 2010 11:35:34 PM

Similar in some ways to what Dutch Gentiles insist is the dominant political feeling among Dutch Jews ("our Jews... critical towards Israel... a 'Different Jewish sound' (een Ander Joods geluid)... opposition to the Zionist-terrorists... but ALL the Jews I know are all pro-Palestinian... etc") versus what one will actually hear from Dutch Jews.
At least, those who are still actually Jews.

And note that at this point, more Dutch Jews live in the United States and Israel than in Holland. Which is marvelous strange.

By the way, Manfred Gerstenfeld is a Dutch Jew - you may have heard of him?

Rabbi Nathan Lopes Cardozo in Jerusalem is also a Dutch Jew.

If Anne Frank were alive today, I really doubt that she would still be a Dutch Jew. At least not a Dutch Jew still living in Holland.

Posted by: At The Back of the Hill | Jan 13, 2010 12:42:00 AM

Great post, Mr. Bogner. If I may, I would also say that in addition to their desire to fit in, they behave the way they do to postpone having to face reality. Europe is different from America in other ways other than how Jews comport themselves. I lived in Europe (Italy) for a number of years and can remember watching this develop. Europeans submerge their predjudices and normally are pretty successful at convincingly denying that they exist at all. But when these predjudices boil up, they are often violent. The influx of immigrants from the Middle East has kept the heat just below a boil. No one wants to confront the possibility of having to leave their home.

Posted by: Kae Gregory | Jan 13, 2010 1:14:03 AM

Wow. That is really interesting. You're right: as an American Jew I totally take my freedom for granted. Not anymore. Thanks for your words, as painful as they are.

Posted by: Leah Weiss Caruso | Jan 13, 2010 3:30:34 AM

My sister-in-law and her family live in north London. In order to secure and maintain a place for her son at the local Jewish primary school, my s-i-l's husband had to train with the CST and must now help out regularly with security at the synagogue.

I can understand a Jewish school wanting to encourage its pupils and their parents to be actively engaged in helping the community, but it's a shame that so much charitable energy must go towards simply protecting the community from attack.

Posted by: Simone | Jan 13, 2010 4:36:08 AM

We were on shlichut in London 1975-77 and as Israelis raised in NY it was shocking. Most tried to hide their Judaism, like the tallit worn under the coat. My Israeli teichel was totally unacceptable. The Jewish school was walled in with security cameras and Israeli guards.

Posted by: Batya | Jan 13, 2010 6:04:06 AM

Those little cards, like the constant signage around London with Staring Eyes and slogans along the lines of "Watch and Report!" -- those things remind me, when I am there, in that city I now love, that England is the birthplace of "1984." I know the signs and cards are probably pretty well-received by the English, but they cause a little frisson of unease in me. I always take photos of any I find when I am there (now twice, sure to go back if I can) to add to my "1984" collection.

I wonder whether or not, if you had a month or two to hang out there, you might find that the Jewish community is not so bneaten-down psychologically as all that. It would be a tragedy if that were the case.


Posted by: Wry Mouth | Jan 13, 2010 7:38:17 AM

In France I have witnessed lots of Jews wearing kippah in Paris districts where a lot of Jews live or in some places in the suburbs with largish Jewish communities. I also know rabbis (Orthodox and Masorti) who wear a kippah or black hat all the time. I'd also add that politically speaking Jews are taken into account there. In smaller places however people would never wear a kippah all the time.
It is hard to decipher how much is based on the fear of anti-semitism and how much has to do with France's reluctance to tolerate religious signs in the public domain. Thus at present the burqa is much discussed and criticized.

Posted by: Ilana-Davita | Jan 13, 2010 10:09:50 AM

"that 'normal' life for British Jews was not something an American or Israeli Jew could easily understand."

Ummm...American, maybe. Israeli??? Israeli Jews are faced with far, far worse. In your post, I see much more of *fears* than actual attacks. Of course, the fear may be worse, in its way...and the attitude in the line quoted may also be worse, in its way and its ignorance.

I also have to agree with "Wry Mouth." "Report Anti-Semitism"? "Report"?

Posted by: Nachum | Jan 13, 2010 10:11:11 AM

As a small child in the North West of England, I knew there was something deeply shameful about being Jewish.

Because we left when I was still quite young, I was fortunate to learn that being Jewish didn't have to mean I was inherently flawed. But this type of mindset remains, for me, part of the essence of being a secular Jew in England. Had I grown up there, I probably would have rationalized it in some way, in order to solve the inner dissonance. I suppose one good solution would have entailed becoming very anti-Israel. Another - an active Zionist.

Posted by: Imshin | Jan 13, 2010 1:55:11 PM

Rav Kook wrote:

"When people are asked why they are unwilling to settle in Eretz Yisrael right now, they have all types of cheshbonot - calculations - as to why now is not the time.

One says his chesbon is that his children need to finish school or college; another's chesbon is that he has to vest his pension, and so on.

If we look in the Torah, though, we will see that before the Jewish people entered Eretz Yisrael, they first killed the King of Chesbon.

Once the King of Chesbon is killed, the decision to move to Eretz Yisrael becomes easy."

Posted by: Jameel | Jan 13, 2010 4:58:58 PM

At least the salt beef sandwiches are ok- aren't they ??

Posted by: britac | Jan 13, 2010 7:21:00 PM

As a small child in the North West of England, I knew there was something deeply shameful about being Jewish.

Yep. It's quite as bad as being a Yankee in the Netherlands. Apparently as a child I was a carrier of filth and disease. So was my classmate Moses - naturally we got along.

I no longer have Stockholm syndrome, boruch Hashem.

Posted by: At The Back of the Hill | Jan 13, 2010 11:49:40 PM

I understand how you feel. Whilst I didn't get to go to your sessions at Limmud I remember you saying that you were uneasy about being perceived as a so-called "settler". British Jews are unfortunately under the lefty thumb. I read a book yesterday called Land Ownership in Palestine from 1888 to 1948 which serves to undermine the Palestinian claim that land and people were entirely dispossessed and felt guilty for having read it. During Cast Lead I was not comfortable to walk into my place of work revealing my Kippa. Why?

There is also a knee-jerk reaction to American Jews on the part of Brits which gets in the way of understanding. I remember being in Jerusalem and sitting having a conversation with an American Jew who was talkign about how anti-semitic the British government and the British Media were towards Israel and for some reason I found myself defending Britain, mostly because I found it offensive that some yank was the denigrating the country in which I was born. Pointless. Effectively we both agreed but as a Brit I
took offence.

Finally, it is important to understand the completely different socio-cultural-political experience of being a Brit. British people aren't necessary proud about the UK. Most are faily ambivolent. This is hugely different to the States. Sometimes I have wondered what makes Yanks so proud to be American and it must be the culture they have grown up in. We don't have that cultural aspect in the UK.

Anyway I hope this helps.

Posted by: Gary | Jan 14, 2010 3:28:15 PM

Hi David (and Gary). Philip Roth, I guess is in Zuckerman unbounded, devotes some pages to a comparison between NY and UK. As an Italian/Israeli living in London sometime I thing to these pages. In UK you get used to a literature which include Fagin among the characters, while hutzpa can be a virtue - in NY it is. I often suspect that on these shores there are too many nostalgics of the Mandate, around, even among Jews. And don't forget that during the Indipendence War some shul has been set to flames (plus Antisemitic here did not lost any war etc. etc.).
Great post, anyway - and very interesting comments. I will keep on reading.

Posted by: Andrea | Jan 14, 2010 5:49:21 PM

The caveats in your post save you. Because as you say, you do make wide generalisations based purely on a week's experience of 2 places. You do so coming from a background that is completely different to that of the one I do. You come from the US and I from the UK. Suggesting you have much socio-economic insight is misleading - I don't mean this rudely, just as fact. You come with a set of norms and so do I but they're vastly different.

The antecedents of the CST are because there used to be a lot of difficulties in the community. But that hasn't stopped us thriving whether in business, politics, society or the arts. True, we don't generally shout about our judaism, but I challenge you to find many Brits (Jew or Gentile) shouting about much. Unlike Americans, who are much more comfortable shouting about a lot of things.

The thing I find disappointing rather than offensive about your post is that it is completely un-nuanced, whereas the issue is a very nuanced one. There are difficulties and there has been a rise in anti-Semitism which is deeply worrying. Yet there are more kosher restaurants opening up now than at any time in our history according to the London Beth Din and I'd guess that there are more Jewish communities starting than for a very long time.

Don't forget it was Philip Roth not a British author who envisioned a capital city in which the Jews were attacked, so I'm assuming not all is rosy at home.

As for the CST, taking their existence as a sign of the problems, I'd suggest that having the JDL is a much bigger sign of problem than the excellent CST.

Posted by: Anthony Silverbrow | Jan 14, 2010 6:54:38 PM


It pains me to say it but you are spot-on

Posted by: Jonathan Hoffman | Jan 14, 2010 10:50:59 PM

Interesting post, but then you write: "Personally, I think that much of the left-leaning, knee-jerk anti-Israel rhetoric coming from the UK Jewish community today can trace its source as much to British Jewry's need to fit in (i.e. to be more British than the Brits), as to any of Israel's real or imagined misdeeds. England's Jews seem (to me) to be captives of anti-Semitism ... forced to tolerate an oppressed status without fully acknowledging it to themselves."

In other words, if you want to explain to yourself how the world, Jews and Gentiles alike, feel about Israel, don't focus on such realities as Ayalon and the Turks, or Lieberman, or Netanyahu, or Shas, or Operation Cast Lead. Focus on the psychology of being a Jew in England. Focus on what's in their heads.

What a comforting thought that must be for you, but how sad. "Why do you see the speck in your brother's eye but fail to see the beam in your own eye?"
Matthew 7:3

Posted by: Walter Reitman | Jan 15, 2010 5:08:40 PM

Since coming to the US regularly to visit my mother and brother, and having lived in Israel, I concur that there is a noticeable difference in Jewish freedom of expression and experience, partly explained by a still deep rooted North American appreciation of the biblical roots of Christianity, which finds sympathetic echo in Jewish sensibilities.

One notices it immediately in the range of books on offer in shops and libraries.

Posted by: zkharya | Jan 15, 2010 6:51:08 PM


As (yet another) ex-Brit living in Israel I'd like to tell you that in fact you are 100% correct.

I left the UK straight after University mainly because of the rife anti-semitism. Not only did I experience having eggs thrown at us on Shabbat but I was also 'beaten up' for wearing my kippa.

But the real push came when I heard trusted work mates talking about me being Jewish and judging me because of it.

If you can't trust your workmates who can you trust?

Keep up the excellent bloggage!

Posted by: Jumblerant | Jan 17, 2010 10:40:22 PM

The writer of this blog states that the British Jewish community is "absolutely absent" in the public discourse concerning Israel. This is absolute nonsense. Certainly you could argue that the community could, and should, be more assertive on the matter. However, over the past 250-odd years of Jewish residency in the UK the community here has developed its own style of quiet diplomacy, cultivating friends in high places, and of simply being good subjects of Her Majesty (there is certainly no understimating the latter - a recent survey showed that the overwhelming majority of Brits feel that Jews make a positive contribution to the country, a result which helps to place the community in a disproportionately influential position). There are Jews in the media, politics, arts and intelligentsia who often - and assertively - support Israel. And large crowds are drawn to the (arguably too few) times that the community organises public rallies in support of Israel.
I agree that the community style is to keep its head down. But such communal discretion is embedded in traditional Jewish sources and is a feature of many Diaspora communities.
I would also agree that many Jews in the UK try to be "more British than the Brits". But how does this differ from the American experience where Jews are so very (yawn) proud to be American? One could easily argue that many Jews in the USA are more American than they are Jewish - fiercely individualistic and proudly assimilationist.
Politically, American Jews are often among the weaker - or at least more nuanced - supporters of Israel: Jews there tend to be left of centre and younger Jews in particular feel less and less connection to Israel and other Jews generally. American politicians' trumpeting of support for Israel is a result, I would argue, of an empathy which Americans in general feel for the Jewish State and - despite the rantings of Walt, Mearsheimer et al - less to do with Jewish political influence.
You are right that there can be a political cost (amongst other drawbacks) to being openly and strongly in support of Israel in the UK. Of course, the political culture in America is quite different - people take seriously their constitutional rights to freedom of speech and accept as axiomatic that these right extend to political opponents. The Euro-British experience has been influenced far more by the conflicts of the past century and so there is much more tinkering by officialdom in what can and can not be said publicly. This, in turn, influences what is socially (as opposed to legally) acceptable in public discourse. Another influence is that of the pervasive cultural influence of Leftist thought resulting from more than a century of Marxist-inspired agitation throughout Europe. The Cold War put the lid on it but now Leftist activists find it much easier to get their voice heard. No doubt in my mind that this is a serious concern in the long term.

However, I am not surprised that the writer of this blog should take such a view of the British Jewish experience - it seems that his observations stem from a one-week stay here to attend Limmud. Limmud!?! The less strongly one identifies as a Jew, the more one is drawn to something like Limmud. It takes anything and everything - no matter how flaky - and, if it's proposed, supported or practised by Jews then it's considered "Jewish". It attracts a lot of lefty, liberal, hand-wringing Anglo-Jews who know little about Middle East politics other than what they glean from the MSM. I would suggest that basing one's analysis largely on one's time spent with Limmudniks will inevitably lead to a distorted conclusion.

As for the security situation: yes, many in the community are concerned about it. It's something which has prompted more - especially younger - people to consider aliyah. The situation has undoubtedly deteriorated in recent years and is strongly linked to the wider acceptance of the type of anti-Israel analyses that used to be the preserve of the far Left and far Right. The high profile security exists primarily as a deterrent rather than as a response to an actual realised level of threat. I don't think the situation here is quite as bad as, say, Melanie Phillips says (someone invisible to the writer of this blog) - but it could easily deteriorate. I don't see a repetition of Cable Street in the short term. On the other hand, British Jews don't have to go through body scanners or have their bags checked when visiting the mall; troops do not need to patrol the streets and private citizens do not need to carry firearms. In Israel last Succot some American olim expressed concern when I told them I was from London: "Aren't there a lot of Arabs there?" I replied: "Not as many as there are [in Eretz Yisrael]."

The writer of this blog makes a lot of reference to his piece being offensive. I don't think it is nearly as offensive as he feared (or hoped?) it would be. But if I were him I'd be a little embarrassed about going off half-cocked.

Posted by: Stefan | Jan 21, 2010 6:54:11 PM

As a British Jew, I found this post very interesting. Certainly it is true to say that Britain is becoming increasingly inhospitable towards Jews.

That said, let me assure you that many of us **do** passionately and publicly DEFEND Israel - proudly.

What you have to appreciate is that here in the UK, it's an utter battle to even make our voices heard. The BBC provides a daily diet of anti Israel propaganda - I've lost count of the number of times I've complained to the station, both in writing and verbally. Ditto with the Guardian newspaper. Many of us actively lobby the government, again with little effect.

Our protests usually get ignored - because we are such a tiny community that we simply don't have the voting power that British Muslims have, for instance.

Britain has a huge Muslim community and I've been told by my MP (political rep) that they are constantly 'bombarding' the government to sever ties with Israel.

Earlier this week, I attended a lobbying day organised jointly by the Zionist Federation and Christian Friends Of Israel. It was interesting but alarming, to hear how *some* British politicians utterly MISunderstand what's going on re Israel and Gaza, for example.

British Jews do tend to be far less assertive than our American cousins - this is definitely true.

But you also have to remember that while in America there is a lot of Christian support for Israel, here in the UK, ANY supporters of Israel are the TOTAL MINORITY.

I'm not sure you realise how intense the *HATRED* for Israel is in this country. It's frightening.

I predict, sadly, that in a decade, there will be hardly any Jews left in Britain, if something doesn't change dramatically.

Posted by: A Jew With A View | Jan 23, 2010 11:48:14 AM

Re the CST:

Those of you saying the CST cards make you 'uneasy' are being absurd. The CST carries out many functions, one of which is to monitor the level of anti semitism so that it can then brief both the Jewish community AND the government and also the Police re the situation at large.

Over the past three years, the number of anti semitic physical assaults has dramatically increased. So yes - we DO need the CST. The organisation encourages Jews to BE vocal about what is happening, so it's ridiculous for people here to condemn the CST while at the same time lambasting British Jews for being too reticent!

If you want to round out your post on British Jews, then you should also take into account all the other groups which speak up for Israel repeatedly. There is the Zionist Federation. There is Just Journalism. There is CIF Watch - a group which *specifically* monitors the rabid anti semitism and anti zionism appearing in the Guardian newspaper 'comment is free' section.

There are also numerous British Jews who work very hard to try and counter the constant anti Israel bias in the British media. We blog, we attend meetings with our MPs, we lobby parliament - don't assume we don't exist just because you didn't encounter us during your ONE week here in Britain...:)

Posted by: A Jew With A View | Jan 23, 2010 11:59:34 AM

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