'Insular community is ignoring plight of refugees'


The Jewish community has become too insular and turned its back on refugees and asylum seekers, according to a leading anti-racism campaigner.

Edie Friedman, director of the Jewish Council for Racial Equality, said the community had missed "vital opportunities" to speak up for Syrian refugees seeking asylum in the UK and African migrants trying cross the Mediterranean. She added that the community was in danger of "forgetting its own history" as migrants.

Dr Friedman urged British Jews to extend their interest beyond "the usual concerns of antisemitism and the Middle East". She said: "We need to see the same engagement on refugee rights and community cohesion. They are equally Jewish issues.

"We saw huge community engagement before and during the election about issues that affect us directly, and it is something we should all be proud of. But there is a danger of us being too insular.

"Last year we got a couple of hundred signatures from the community on a petition urging the Prime Minister to reverse the decision not to support future search-and-rescue missions in the Mediterranean, but we should have had thousands."

She argued rabbis ought to create more opportunities for congregants to get involved on social justice issues outside the community.

"It should be part and parcel of what a rabbi does with his or her shul. And our communal leadership could do more."

She added she was concerned about the latest government proposal to scrap the Human Rights Act and hoped the communal leadership would mount a "strong defence of the act".

Dr Friedman said: "Since [the Act] grew out of the Holocaust it really is our duty to defend it. Fighting for human rights is part of who we are."

Jewish human rights organisation, René Cassin, echoed Dr Friedman's concerns about the repeal of the act.

Campaigns manager Sam Grant said: "Those rights, including the right to life, and freedom from torture, were Europe's response to the horrors of the Holocaust and Stalin."

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