Join the grassroots revolution

September 18, 2014 13:01

Ours is the world's fourth-largest diaspora Jewish community. Our leaders have been instrumental in the great Jewish achievements of the last century, from eliciting the Balfour Declaration to winning the release of Soviet Jewry. But, over the years, something changed. Our communal voice lost its potency while new enemies arose, becoming stronger and louder. Our Britishness begs us not to make a fuss and our communal institutions urge us to be restrained. Fast-forward to the conflict in Gaza, when rank antisemitism became commonplace on the streets and online, breaking CST records.

That's when the Campaign Against Antisemitism was founded, because it was needed. We are not veteran campaigners but an assortment of next-generation British Jews who decided to act, discovering and joining each other along the way. We highlighted individual cases of antisemitism and encouraged the community to report them to the police and CST, resulting in arrests. When the Tricycle Theatre pushed away the UK Jewish Film Festival, we brought 350 protesters to their gates.

When antisemitic hate crime continued to rage but the prosecutions did not materialise, thousands joined our rally outside the Royal Courts of Justice calling for zero tolerance enforcement of the law.

Our rally was enthusiastically backed by the full gamut of Jewish community institutions and by the community itself. Orthodox and secular, left and right, voted with their feet and came out in force. The speakers reflected the variety of the crowd. The next day, David Cameron told Parliament that there must be no tolerance of antisemitism. A week later, I met two senior government ministers who had noticed our rally, and our discussions are ongoing. That is what a united front, on its feet and in fine voice, can do.

To those who question the merits of grassroots activism, our rally is a resounding response. Our community stood proud and united. Our voice was heard at the highest levels. That is what grassroots are for; that is what community should be.

We gave a voice to many who needed to be heard

Our results-driven activism is already notching up accomplishments. The situation is too grave to rely only on longstanding networks of powerful contacts and reserved conversations behind closed doors. British Jews demanded more direct action and we responded.

But the situation is also too urgent to start from scratch. Now is the time to work together, both grassroots and establishment, we must ignore the conspiracy theories and petty communal politics. The Tricycle Theatre's partial climbdown was an imperfect but successful example of what happens when we find common cause and fight for it.

Our communal voice is changing. People asked: "Where is the next generation of leaders?" The grassroots has an answer. We gave a voice to many who felt they needed to be heard. There is something inherently democratic in a coming together of ordinary people. If our campaign ignores our community or fails to pursue consensus, we lose our following. The hour is late and there is much to do, so please, join us and help us to succeed.

Ours are aims that everyone can unite behind: zero-tolerance prosecution of antisemites, mobilisation of our community against antisemitism and alliance with other communities against racism.

We are moving fast. We are building a panel of expert lawyers, which is already at work preparing recommendations on enforcement of the law against antisemitic hate crime. We are reviewing the option of direct legal action when the authorities fail to act. We are forging political connections and lobbying for zero tolerance. Following the success of our rally, we are about to announce a march at which the wider British public can show its solidarity with us against antisemitic intimidation and hate. We are forging strong new friendships within our own community and outside.

We're ambitious, but there has not been a single Jewish accomplishment of note that didn't start with a small group of plucky, single-minded Jews using every ounce of their determination and ingenuity to achieve something that everyone else said was too ambitious. There have always been those who do and those who criticise from the sidelines. Which would you rather be?

September 18, 2014 13:01

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive