We have to speak up in the face of increasing antisemitism

The golden era of European Jewry is coming to an end, says Daniel Korski the new Vice President of the JLC

June 20, 2019 11:23

I have been lucky to live through a modern golden era of European Jewry - a period of tolerance, peace, acceptance, creativity. The polarisation of our communities and particularly the mainstreaming of antisemitism across Europe and now the UK has left me feeling disturbed.

It was probably safer and better to be Jewish in Europe from the late 1980s - when the Soviet Union allowed the Refusniks to leave - until recently than in any other period of European history.

My grandfather survived the Holocaust but his family were killed while the Europe of his youth was burnt to the ground. He joined the Polish Communist Party, worked his way up the Ministry of Foreign Trade and like many others, believed they were creating a new society - one that would do away with the evils of the past and make life safe for everyone including Jews.

It is clear that the dream of a society free from antisemitism had been naive. He was fired from his job as part of the then-Polish government’s anti-Jewish progroms. His son, my father, was kicked out of university. They were all eventually robbed of their Polish citizenship and kicked out of the country - but not before being harassed at Warsaw airport. My mother’s family, along with 50.0000 other Jews, experienced the same in the late 1960s.

My family now think of those events as a stroke of great luck. As my father once said, they were “thrown out - to freedom.” They were allowed to grow up on the free side of the Iron Curtain. But it also left scars. My parents were always conscious that antisemitism could rear its ugly head again. They were never comfortable advertising their own Jewishness too publicly. Despite encountering causal antisemitism, I found most of this too paranoid to take seriously.

But the golden era I grew up in seems to be coming to an end. Antisemitism is clearly on the rise in the UK and elsewhere. In May alone, a Jewish cemetery was vandalised in the city of Bordeaux, France, a senior German official warned Jews against wearing the kippah in public following a spike in attacks against Jews and in the UK, the Equality and Human Rights Commission - the national human rights institution - launched a formal investigation into antisemitism within the Labour Party. The investigation will consider whether the party has unlawfully discriminated against, harassed, or victimised people because they are Jewish.

I have now had to reluctantly conclude that my parents may not have been paranoid. Or as the old Jewish joke has it, just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they are not out to get you.

The rise of anti-Jew hatred, both on the Left and Right, is now a serious concern. I understand my parents’ reticence about being too public but conclude that that’s not how we today fight the scourge of racism against Jews.

I strongly believe that a proud and confident Jewish community is what is needed to help thwart the rising levels of antisemitism and I have been asking myself what else I can do to play a part. That is why I accepted the invitation to become a Vice-President of the Jewish Leadership Council - alongside the likes of British MPs like Robert Halfon and Luciana Berger - to help them with the crucial work they do.

Everyone, Jews and non-Jews alike, need to ensure that the trend in Europe towards greater intolerance of Jews but also other minorities, comes to an abrupt end.

Daniel Korski is Vice President of the JLC

June 20, 2019 11:23

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