Critics should save their vitriol for Israel’s enemies
Claiming that the Board of Deputies is complacent about antisemitism is absurd
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Amid all the arguments about antisemitism in the UK, two things are clear. First, that antisemitism has been increasing. The figures produced by the Community Security Trust (CST) show antisemitic incidents in the first six months of 2009 at their highest since records began in 1984.
Second, that increase is connected with events in the Middle East. There was a spike in the number of incidents at the time of the Gaza war. Since then the level has gone down, but is still slightly higher than normal.
Among communal organisations, the CST stands out as a model of professionalism. Its reaction was to report the problem, but not to overplay it. As the representative body of the community, the Board were more deeply concerned. I publicly expressed our profound unease. My statement said how worried we were both at the spike and its continuing repercussions. Antisemitic attacks, whether or not linked to overseas events, are simply unacceptable.
How bad is bad, however? Recently, a distinguished guest at the Board said that antisemitism in the UK was as bad as in Germany in 1938. No-one queried this. Nor was he alone. A senior diaspora politician compared our situation to that in Germany just before the rise of the Nazis referring to my predecessor as a trembling Israelite. Now Robin Shepherd, in the JC and the Jerusalem Post last week, says the lights are going out.
Stating the case in such terms might, if credible, serve as an antidote to those who are in denial.
But to say that the communal leadership is complacent is absurd. The Board and its partner organisations are confronted by these issues daily, monitoring antisemitic and anti-Israel propaganda and activities and taking action to address them.
No one, government, the media, the Church or charity is immune to our criticism. Even so, there remain gaps in the community’s ability to respond. The Board, therefore, is setting up an Israel Advocacy group specifically to enable members of the community to confront anti-Zionist propaganda in the media and elsewhere.
My article expressly stated that there is a lot of work to do. The danger is not complacency, however, but despair. To say that the battle is lost is both wrong and dangerous.
Another criticism is that we give comfort to Israel’s enemies by stating that the extent of the problem is pervasive but not all encompassing. What does give them comfort is an article suggesting we are rattled. If they take comfort, however, from being told that they do not speak for the majority of academics or opinion formers then they are either very easily comforted or just perverse.
We have a cadre of talented and dedicated professionals at the Board and the JLC who, unlike many of our detractors, are at the coal face fighting anti-Zionism and antisemitism, and challenging boycott campaigns. We may be mistaken in our views, but we are not deluded and nor do we have our collective heads in the sand. Our critics should save their vitriol for those who attack Israel, not for those in the front line of its defence.
Vivian Wineman is president of the Board of Deputies