Gary Mond

Let's hear it for philosemitism

For all the antisemitism, we should remember how many friends we have

March 04, 2021 14:50

Last July, the JC published an exceptionally thought-provoking article by the writer Misha Mansoor titled “Racism is not the preserve of any single race”.  It made a compelling case, with many examples, as to why racism is a problem throughout society. Yet perhaps the most eye-catching expression which Ms Mansoor used was her quote from Tom Lehrer’s song “National Brotherhood Week” that “everyone hates the Jews”. This got me thinking – is that right?

I am 61 years old, have travelled widely and have worked in many different capacities with people from all backgrounds, races and religions. The notion that “everyone hates the Jews” is definitely not my experience, although I can understand that, for some who have been traumatised by antisemitic events in their lives, it might well be theirs. Of course, antisemitism is utterly evil, must be fought tooth and nail and we all have to accept that, very sadly and in spite of our best efforts, it is a light sleeper and will probably always be with us. That said, it is important for us to remind ourselves that, far from antisemitism being a disease that has infected the entire globe, highly positive attitudes towards Jews and Judaism in general prevail with many people and in lots of other cultures around the world. 

The most public example of philosemitism that we have seen here in the UK very recently related to the dismissal of 73 year-old lecturer Stephen Lamonby from Solent University for having said, in a private conversation, that Jewish people were among the cleverest in the world. Whatever the merits and demerits of this statement might be, it is fair to say that this is a view held, with feelings of both respect and objectivity, by many, and not with any antisemitic intent. Mr Lamonby articulated what countless others think – and such thoughts are generated by a combination of personal experiences of working with Jews and data such as Jewish successes in winning Nobel prizes. These thoughts are natural and logical.

A different reason for philosemitism among other cultures is admiration for what one might loosely call “Jewish values”. I do accept that the meaning of this expression is very controversial, with Jewish left-wing groups often wishing to claim that Jewish values are those of the social justice movement and its embrace of tikkun olam. In this context of philosemitism, I am however referring more directly to Jewish values being the Jewish belief in adhering, firstly, to the Ten Commandments, and secondly to other respected Jewish attitudes such as the desire to work hard to achieve our goals, the love and care for our families and, where possible and affordable, our strong support for charity. For many religious Christians (especially in the USA, but also elsewhere), the commonality between their own faith and the spiritual and moral aspects of Judaism are profound. This is a view that was often espoused by former prime minister Margaret Thatcher, who as the MP for Finchley, was exceptionally familiar with Jewish interests, aspirations and concerns.

For some fifteen years I used to run three-week long financial training courses, on a regular basis, for large groups of Chinese bankers in London. For them, it would often be their first – and probably only – trip out of China. Whenever I revealed that I was Jewish, this would prompt immense interest and debate about Judaism, Jewish history, Jewish culture and Israel, and it was truly heart-warming for me to notice the appreciation which they showed. For example, many would compare and contrast Jewish principles with Chinese Buddhism, with one important common denominator being the desire for high levels of learning and knowledge, attributes which are held in esteem in both of our cultures.

A similar attitude towards Jews exists in India, a country with a population of 1.4 billion. Speaking at an event to commemorate the festival of Bharat in July 2019, former Israeli Ambassador to the UK Mark Regev emphasised that, throughout history, Jews were never persecuted in India and antisemitism has never existed there. This view was also emphasised in a radio interview by Rabbi Dr Harvey Belovski from Golders Green Synagogue. The reasons are not completely clear, but it is probably connected to the cultural values endemic in the Hindu faith and respect for the traditions and beliefs of others.

In conclusion, our community groups must continue to do all they can to fight Jew-hatred, wherever and whenever it manifests itself. Yet this must not blind us to the reality that, both in the UK and all over the world, we have many friends and supporters who wish us well. Let’s hear it for philosemitism!

Gary Mond is a trustee of JNF UK, an advisory Board member of Conservative Friends of Israel and a Trustee of the London Jewish Forum. He writes in a personal capacity only. 


March 04, 2021 14:50

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