Academic says leaders must confront hatred

By Bernard Josephs, August 28, 2008
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A leading Jewish academic has attacked the community's "anaemic" strategy in the battle against antisemitism and warned there are grounds to doubt that Britain provides a tolerant environment for Jews.

Philosophy professor Shalom Lappin, of King's College, London, calls for a more aggressive reaction to antisemitism in a paper written for the Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Antisemitism at Yale University.

In This Green and Pleasant Land: Britain and the Jews, Professor Lappin says that increased hostility to Israel, both in public discourse and in the media, is fuelled by a "perception of Jews as an illicit collectivity with no claim to legitimacy or recognition".

Current hostility to Jews in the UK, he argues, is frequently packaged as "progressive political comment", but its origins are in "traditional social attitudes that have been integral to Britain's history for centuries".

This week he told the JC: "It is not true that change can be brought about by quiet diplomacy by an elite of elders. When a community finds itself under attack, it should react robustly, with activism and in the public domain."

Professor Lappin, a supporter of Peace Now and of the anti-boycott campaign, said that Israel should be held accountable to the same norms as other countries, and that criticism on such a basis was legitimate. However, he said, the community should react when such criticism spilled over into antisemitism.

"There are some wonderful people in this community who fight antisemitism, such as the Community Security Trust, but too often - when for instance Jewish students come under attack - the community leadership stands off and just offers quiet advice from the outside. The reaction is anaemic."

Professor Lappin believes that many in the Jewish community are in a state of denial about antisemitism.
And his paper charges the Jewish leadership as having "actively co-operated with this exercise in misrepresentation over the years as part of a strategy for surviving in an environment in which Jews enjoy an acutely conditional acceptance".

But Board of Deputies president Henry Grunwald said he had seen a draft copy of Professor Lappin's paper and declared that it displayed an "astonishing lack of awareness about what is being, and has been, done to deal with antisemitism. It doesn't pay any attention to organisations leading the fight against it."

The Board's chief executive, Jon Benjamin, said: "Without for one moment denying the problems we face, I don't think it can fairly or reasonably be said that ours is a marginalised community existing on the fringes of society.

"For the most part we live openly, comfortably and proudly as Jews in Britain. But organisations like the Board of Deputies, JLC and CST exist precisely because we do recognise and take seriously the threats and challenges facing our community."

    Last updated: 12:14pm, August 28 2008