Back those who stand up for us

Individuals should be praised for speaking out against antisemitism, not criticised


In the year and a half I have had the honour of editing the JC, I have been able to meet all sorts of fascinating and admirable people (not, of course, that fascinating always goes hand in hand with admirable). And in my trips to speak at various synagogues and organisations I have realised that pretty much everyone has an idea for improving the paper (such as getting a new editor); and many think that if only the Jewish community would behave as they want it to, all our problems would be over.

Our foreign editor, Miriam Shaviv, is using her blog (www.thejc.com/miriam_shaviv) this month to give an airing to a variety of ideas suggesting how we should behave as a community - to transform the British Jewish community as she puts it. There are a number of striking suggestions. But there is one which has particularly grabbed my attention, coming, as it happens, from one of those very fascinating and admirable people I referred to.

Baroness Deech is a formidable woman. A former head of an Oxford college, BBC governor and chair of the Human Fertilisation & Embryology Authority, she now sits as a crossbencher in the House of Lords, where she is one of Israel's most eloquent and thoughtful advocates.

So it is appropriate that her contribution to the series is to urge the appointment of "antisemitism champions". As she writes: "The CST does a wonderful job, and its reports are absolutely invaluable, but it is an organisation, whereas the community needs to put forward individuals with a high profile, and have a number for the media to call.

For too long, our community has not wanted to make too much of a noise

"I greatly admire the work of Melanie Phillips and of Anthony Julius, both of whom have the courage to stand up to the vilifying, screaming, and unpleasant profiling that their brave and true words occasionally attract. Our spokespersons have to have the necessary dash of chutzpah needed to confront the enemies of Jews and of Israel.

"We need to protect them and stand with them - but above all we need more of them… we need more individuals who can persuade, like John Mann MP, Ron Prosor, Jonathan Sacks and the American, Alan Dershowitz."

She is right. For too long, our community has not wanted to make too much of a noise. We have talked to each other, we have moaned to each other, and we have gone through the back-channels of government, but - a Trafalgar Square rally apart - we have not really had the temerity to make ourselves properly heard lest we be thought trouble-makers.

Far too typical is what I heard a few years ago from one now very senior community official who, when I mentioned how much I admired Melanie Phillips for her fearlessness and clarity in calling a spade a spade, looked at me as if a bird had just deposited something very unpleasant on his head. "That woman has no idea how to behave," he said. "She should learn what is appropriate and what is not."

I would like to think that such an attitude was dying out, as our representatives and leaders realise the scale of the threat posed by 21st-century antisemitism. But it remains.

True, the Jewish Leadership Council was forthright in its calls for the law on universal jurisdiction to be changed, and some of its recent press statements have been direct and clear.

But they are the exception to the rule. There are only so many Melanie Phillipses or Anthony Juliuses. And while we are lucky to have MPs such as Michael Gove and Denis MacShane to warn against the threat posed by radical Islam, we need to nurture more such people of our own.

There are plenty of candidates, but many shy away from it. Not because of the reaction outside the community but because of how they will be treated within it. If they are female, they will be criticised for being too shrill. If they are male, they will be told they are hot-headed.

Instead of criticism, we need to cherish and honour those among us who are willing to stand up and be counted.

    Last updated: 3:35pm, June 3 2010

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