For many, this news was even more difficult to digest, falling as it did after other events this year: the politically motivated murder of Jo Cox MP, closely followed by the unexpected vote for Brexit. Among my colleagues in the voluntary sector there is a widespread sense of depression. It feels as if we are in a void. The political horizon looks equally alarming with the consequences of the Italian referendum and the possible outcomes of the French and Dutch elections. There are anxieties about community cohesion and integration in the UK; and the surge in far-right activity in Britain, the rest of Europe and the United States. No wonder that some of us are grappling with two competing narratives: one that raises the spectre of 1930s Germany; the other, more reassuring, that says that common sense and realpolitik will prevail.
As 2016 draws to a close, my own belief is that we need not only to take stock, but also to shake off our malaise and prepare to go back into the fray. So here are my suggestions for 10 New Year resolutions to help us do that:
1) Resist compassion fatigue and despair. This is a challenge when seeing the daily pictures from places like Aleppo and Yemen. But those in need — refugees, homeless people, victims of war — don’t have the luxury of giving in. Their situation won’t improve unless there is a concerted and combined effort to change it.
2) Revisit the word tolerance — regarded by some as outmoded because of its association with the rather patronising acceptance of others. We need to recognise the increasing levels of intolerance within public discourse and behaviour. We need to get back, at the very least, to a place where a modicum of respect and a live-and-let-live mindset prevails. And we need to make sure that the laws we do have in this country against incitement to hatred are properly enforced.
3) Make sure we occupy a scapegoatfree zone. We need to deal not only with the pernicious post-Brexit rise in hate crime, but also to be on guard against the scapegoating of groups such as migrants and refugees, reinforced by certain sections of the press and politicians. The drip-feeding of stories that turn individuals and groups into caricatures is damaging. We Jews, of all people, know where that can lead.
4) Change our relationship with social media. A diet of verbal abuse, misogyny, antisemitism, Islamophobia, other forms of hate crime, and just plain shouting, is simply not good for the nation’s psychological well-being. We must make sure that when we use social media, we do so with civility
. 5) Work more closely together — develop working relationships with other minority communities, and with organisations such as Hope Not Hate, who do research and community-organising to defeat hate groups; the race-equality think tank, the Runnymede Trust; and the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, who monitor human rights and protect equality. We face enormous social problems: rising levels of inequality, race-hate crimes, and homelessness. We must find common cause if we are to combat them and find ways of amplifying our Jewish voice.
6) Broaden our horizons — rethink where we get our information. We need to avoid staying within our own media bubble, and instead expose ourselves to a wider spectrum of issues and views. Could the Jewish press and communal organisations help facilitate this, through articles, or public meetings or debates, on the issues affecting Britain today?
7) Become more knowledgeable on one important issue — such as homelessness or child poverty — and galvanise others to do the same. There is no campaign within our community about either of these critical problems, and there should be. It only needs one person to start one.
8) Be realistic about what can be achieved and set achievable goals — we all need to feel that, on some level we can, individually or collectively, make a difference.
9) Reframe our notion of what is “good for the Jews”. Being Jewish has always reflected a struggle between universalism and particularism. Now, more than ever, we need to work on committing to the wider society as well as maintaining our own traditions. What is good for us is the same as what is good for the UK as a whole: the just treatment of refugees and asylum seekers; a commitment to human rights; a decrease in inequality and measures to tackle racial attacks, Islamophobia, xenophobia and hate crime generally.
10) Stay positive — I think often of the line in that Leonard Cohen song: “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” So let’s all keep focusing on that light and have a happy new year.
Dr Edie Friedman is Executive Director of the Jewish Council for Racial Equality (JCORE). www.jcore.org.uk