JLC leader: British Jewry faces ‘the fight of our lives’ after October 7

But new community action places us ‘on the front foot’ says Keith Black


JLC chairman Keith Black (Photo: Mark Thomas)

The Jewish Leadership Council this week unveiled an unprecedented community-wide strategy to safeguard the future of British Jewry in the wake of the crisis unleashed by October 7.

“I think we are in the fight of our lives,” said JLC chairman Keith Black. “But it is a battle we shouldn’t be scared of taking on.”

The Forge the Future initiative, set out in a 24-page document, adopts a four-pronged approach: to channel support to the community’s young; to win allies and friends in wider society; to strive for fairer media coverage; and to co-ordinate legal action to protect Jewish rights.

It follows a meeting in February where 180 leaders, professionals and activists from a spectrum of Jewish organisations thrashed out ideas on the way ahead.

I’ve never known the community to be as nervous

Explaining the background, Black said: “We’ve had a post-war period of gradual growth in confidence and integration into British life over the last 100 years - we’ve all been wonderful beneficiaries of it. But the stories we are hearing feel like we’ve gone slam into reverse. I’ve never known the community to be as nervous.

“It was nervous during the Corbyn years, certainly. There was talk of people leaving the country and genuinely fearful for their Jewish future here. But those fears have been exacerbated over the last six months and come to the fore in a much greater way. The antisemitism is so egregious, I’m hearing it all over.”

As a result of last month’s brainstorming, “We have come up with a community plan that will allow us to fight back and take charge of our own destiny and not simply stand back, bury our heads in the sand or be cowed. We recognise the hatred of the age, much of it seems to be focused against us yet again. And we will fight back.

“The anxiety our community faces is frankly nothing short of a national disgrace. We have been a model community contributing to all levels of society, helping to build this country. We are as vested in the success of Great Britain as any other citizen. We value enormously what this country offers and we will not simply lie down and take this abuse without putting up a damn good fight.”

Working groups have already been convened to begin advancing nine projects.

One proposal, for a commission on the Jewish identity of young Jews, recognised, “they have a complicated relationship with their Judaism and with Israel," Black said. "We need to work with them. We need to pull the youngsters together and understand how they would like us to handle the issues they are facing.”

The strategy documented noted that they had a far greater understanding of the Palestinian perspective than Jews 10 to 20 years ago.

Black said, “They need to be given “the tools understand Jewish history and what is happening in Israel so they can make their own informed decisions rather than be fed fake news and lies [from social media]".

The work on young people will include increasing support for preparation for university as well as research into antisemitism in non-Jewish schools and on campus, which are sometimes “not safe spaces any more”.

The JLC will collaborate closely with a group headed by a prominent community figure that is already at work on exposing antisemitism within academia. “It’s when the academic turns on Jewish students that the balance of power shifts dramatically away. It makes a lot of kids very uncomfortable,” Black said. “Academic antisemitism needs to be put under the spotlight.”

The Forge for Future initiative is also looking at setting up networks of Jewish academics and sponsoring 100 post-graduate scholarships in Jewish or Israel studies.

It also advocates the inclusion of at least one under-30-year-old observer on Jewish charity boards to help prepare the next generation of communal leadership.

We know the majority of the British population have no truck with antisemitism

The second strand involves finding allies and ambassadors across different sectors of British society.

“We know the majority of the British population have no truck with antisemitism,” he said. But they “are a quiet majority. We need to ignite the silent majority and we need to find friends and allies throughout society who are prepared to stand up and say antisemitism is unacceptable.”

He believes the bar for calling out antisemitism has perhaps been set too high and he would like to see it drop.

At the same time, he wants to see the message put across that British Jews continue to make a major contribution to Britain and are “very positive supporters of British democracy and all facets of British society, from politics, to commerce, to arts, to academia”.

As far as media coverage of the conflict, he believes the print media has generally been “reasonable” but broadcasting “shocking”.

One idea is to set up a central media unit, possibly within Bicom, to co-ordinate responses and to have a roster of trained spokespeople from the community.

But a thornier problem remains “the plague of disinformation” coming from “the swamp” of social media. One thing that could be done is to issue advice to the community “about do’s and don’ts”.

A digital steering group is being set up “that will test various strategies and try to hook up with other bodies internationally” that are dealing with the social media challenge.

A legal co-ordination group is also to be formed to ensure that cases that impact on Jewish life are “dealt with strategically” and determine what legislation might be needed to defend Jewish rights in future.

As part of the initiative, a mapping exercise is under way to find out what is going on across the community, that will include not only established organisations but grassroots enterprises that have sprung up over the past six months.

Also on the cards is the creation of a community hub — “a central repository of community information that allows people to know what is going on in a much more sophisticated way”.

We have to be resilient as a community. We have to stay proud of our Judaism, living strong Jewish lives

As for funding, Black said he was “not going to put a number on it. There are substantial funders who have expressed very serious support of the work and with whom we are deeply engaged with. We are confident if we come with well-defined plans, we will find the money.”

If there was one message, he said, “We have to be resilient as a community. We have to stay proud of our Judaism, living strong Jewish lives at whatever level we want to.

“We are on the front foot now. We feel that the communal and grassroots organisation organisations did an exceptional job in supporting the community during the early part of the crisis. But it is time now to get to the next level.”

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