Tuesday, August 16, 2005

The Trouble With Anglo-Jewry: Diasporate times...

Whether we like it or not, Jews are inextricably linked to Israel by both friend and foe; so are we to think of ourselves as foreign or dual nationals? In the light of the London terror attacks, Muslims are questioning - and being questioned about - whether a dual loyalty of religion and nation can be achieved. For us the question is more complex because Jewishness is nationhood AND religion. It is therefore all the more admirable that our loyalty to our hosts and their way of life is beyond reproach.

Jews have an obligation to work within the rules of whatever society they find themselves living in, and to add value to it. They also are obliged to support Israel's right to exist, and to challenge inherent bias where they see it. We may have our own debates about individual Israeli policies, but too often we allow this to deflect us from uniting on the inalienable truths. As long as we live in a country where our views are not stifled, and where hostility to Israel neither breaches the boundary of anti-semitism, nor questions Israel's fundamental right to exist, we should have no problem of split loyalties.

So what happens when we can no longer trust the country we live in to provide for our safety? In France, this has been the case for a few years, and has been a matter for diplomatic debate between Chirac and Sharon. Despite the platitudes of the French, thousands of feuj are heading for Tel Aviv. In Britain, it was a growing problem but 7/7 and 21/7 have changed the outlook substantially. It is an unfortunate adage that "the enemy of my enemy is my friend", but the endemic hatred of all things Judeo-Christian, Western, capitalist and democratic, espoused by radical Muslims worldwide and supported by the so-called Muslim moderates (either openly or tacitly through their refusal to confront it), is now recognised by all for the threat it is to them now, and has been to us since time immemorial. We've been saying this for some time...

What, then, are we contributing to our society? I enjoyed a fascinating session at last year's Limmud conference entitled "Branding UK Jewry and the power of positive PR." This was a session that moved away from the Israel thing and focused on Anglo-Jewry's image alone. We were asked to look at what non-Jews find attractive, intriguing or unexpected about what British Jews are, think and do. It took a remarkable amount of thought, and some serious coaxing from our facilitators Barry Kosmin and Winston Pickett of the Institute for Jewish Policy Research, before people could find much contructive to say. Eventually we settled on some of the values of family, education, volunteerism and charity that the Jewish community seems to have taken to its core more than the society around us.

I think we are presented with two interesting challenges as Diaspora Jews in the UK, one inward- and one outward-looking. Firstly, we have to challenge and build on our roots and values, and ensure there is something vibrant and stimulating to be proud of and to ensure there is a Diaspora community worthy of the name for generations to come. Secondly, we need to accept and learn to thrive on the fact that we are distinct from "the British" - we are British Jews.

Our greatest feature is that we represent a bridge between the ethnic and religious minorities and wider British culture. We are white, we are the Judeo- to their -Christian, we are for the most part British born and bred. Instead of trying to be more British than the British, we should assert our unique identity in a way that stimulates pride in ourselves, and - heavens above - pride in us from our hosts, not just benign neglect and tolerance.

By doing so, we could be at the forefront of a move away from the dreaded and vacuous "multicultural Britain" to one where common values bind us and our differences make us stronger. And that's why we all need a strong and dynamic Diaspora Jewry.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

"(Jews) also are obliged to support Israel's right to exist, and to challenge inherent bias where they see it"

Allow me to respond to this statement in the most objective way that I can:
Your views are overtly Zionist and therefore both ideological and idealistic. (Ideological is described as 'The body of ideas reflecting the social needs and aspirations of an individual, group, class, or culture' (http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=ideology) - I believe that you may be digging yourself a hole as your Zionist ideology is entirely reflective of, and dependant on you being brought up in a well-off, united synagogue-esque, quite religious Jewish circumstance: these, i think contain the biases which construct your argument (and they are arguments and opinions, not 'inalienable truths') - i think you need to show that these are not merely your biases and therefore to explain in detail the 'inextricable link' between Jews and Israel - i think this, along with trying to claim that the universal obligations of global Jews [(i know you are talking mainly about Anglo-Judaism but I assume when you refer to Jews and the rules of whatever society they live in, you mean the role of Jews globally)] are homogenous, (for example, your claim that all Jews are obliged to support Israel's right to exist) gets complicated when you take into account the large number of Jews who for whatever reasons do not support Israel's right to exist, or at least do not support its right to exist as a state based purely on military defence - no doubt you would brand most of these non-supporters self-hating Jews, foolish wishy washy liberals etc, what about the relatively large numbers of orthodox Jews and Hassidim who actively oppose Zionism, what are your thoughts on them? it might be worth researching and commenting further on the roots and present practice of jewish anti-zionist perspectives before you generalise about what the obligations of all jews everywhere are - feel free to prove, no argue me wrong, as Im sure you will.

freedmanslife said...

Great challenges - most of which were scheduled to appear in future chapters but will advance them up the agenda for you. I look forward to your observations when the time comes. Also I would be grateful if you could share your identity - nice to know who's posting around here...