The upcoming election is undoubtedly an anxiety provoking time. However, it also provides an opportunity to question the type of society we want to live in, to bring Jewish ethics into public consciousness and to take Jewish values to the ballot box.
We must therefore resist the temptation to pull up our drawbridges.
The Jewish Council for Racial Equality (JCore) has launched its election-pledge campaign, which has since been endorsed by the Board of Deputies.
JCore’s campaign calls on parliamentary candidates to show their commitment to social justice by pledging to champion six proposals.
The first three proposals call for asylum seekers to have the right to work, to reunite refugee families, and to create a properly funded programme to resettle unaccompanied refugee children and young people.
Not once but 36 times does the Torah instruct us on the way in which we treat strangers: “Love the stranger, for you were once strangers in the Land of Egypt” (Deuteronomy 10:19).
According to Lord Sacks: “A stranger is one we are taught to love precisely because he is not like us. That is the Torah’s repeated and most powerful command. I believe it to be the greatest religious truth articulated in the past 4,000 years.”
Each month, at my synagogue’s drop-in for asylum seekers, I meet families who, having escaped persecution, have been waiting for a decision on their asylum application for over 10 years.
As I speak to Mohammed, whose family has been waiting in limbo for 16 years, squashed together in rat-infested accommodation and prohibited by law from finding a job, my mind turns to my family, and the families of so many Jewish people, who were once immigrants. Is this the type of society we want to live in?
JCore’s final three proposals are to protect the Race Disparity Unit, which monitors racial inequality, to fund a permanent memorial to victims of the transatlantic slave trade and to ensure that all political parties have clear and transparent procedures for dealing with all forms of racism, including antisemitism, Islamophobia and anti-black racism.
All of JCore’s proposals have, as their common thread, the principles of respect, compassion, justice and dignity for every member of society. They go to the very heart of the way in which we treat one another.
JCore is asking election candidates to sign the pledge and share it on social media. It is also providing a list of questions to ask on the doorstep and at hustings.
With a toxic rise of hatred and victimisation, it is more important than ever that we engage with issues such as these and speak out with a Jewish voice to ensure that the candidates we elect share the proud Jewish commitment to social justice.
“If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, what am I? If not now, when?” Ethics of the Fathers, 1:14.
Click here for details about JCore’s election pledge
Sam Cozens is a Psychotherapist, Solicitor, Trustee of JCORE and Co-ordinator of The Liberal Jewish Synagogue’s Drop-in for Asylum Seeker Families