Glasgow Jewish Educational Forum

Antony Lerman on BBC Radio Scotland

Posted by Admin on November 20, 2012

The current edition of BBC Radio Scotland’s Sunday Morning with . . . programme features an interview with Antony Lerman, in which he discusses his new book The Making and Unmaking of a Zionist: A Personal and Political Journey with Ricky Ross.

To listen to the discussion, which is available on demand until the 25th November, please click here » (The audio stream is cued to start at the beginning of the interview)

One of the strengths, and fascinations, of Lerman’s book is that it allows us to see the contours of his scholarly and intellectual journey: he is not merely settling accounts for the hurts he has endured, but offering us the opportunity to consider with him the complex dynamics within some of the key issues of Jewish life today, many of which revolve around Israel-Diaspora relationships and perceptions. He introduces us to a cast of academics and scholars — from Israel, the US and Europe — whom he has read, listened to and lectured with, over more than thirty years and who have helped him think deeply about the multiple ways in which “Judaism, Jewishness, Jewish identity and Jewish ethnicity are much more than Zionism.” (Rabbi Howard Cooper, Jewish Quarterly)

The Making and Unmaking of Zionist: A Personal and Political Journey is published by Pluto Press

Posted in Audio, General, Issues | 1 Comment »

‘Antisemitism’ and the Liberal Media: The Long View

Posted by Admin on October 1, 2011

A necessary corrective to the furore associated with the publication of Tom Shields’ now infamous article.

Julia Neuberger: Rocking the Boat of Jewish Sensibilities

On 27th May 1986, the distinguished journalist Hugo Young wrote an article for the Guardian — one of his regular columns — entitled ‘When Mrs Thatcher sings of Jerusalem’. It was at the time of the Prime Minister’s visit to Israel, and argued that her trip was more to do with her personal feelings, her admiration for Jews, Judaism and Jewish values, than with Britain’s interests abroad.

That Tuesday morning, I had 28 telephone calls before eight a.m. They came from liberal, intellectual, semi-aware Jews. Some were members of my synagogue. More were members of no synagogue and no Jewish institution. They were ‘culturally’ Jewish, they argued (a recipe for belief in chicken soup and bagels), but aware at any moment of the faintest tinge of anti-Semitism. And Hugo Young, to their mind, had been deeply anti-Semitic in this article. After all, he had equated ‘ambition, purposefulness, material success and self-help towards self-advancement’ with the Jewish ideal. He had used the Chief Rabbi’s criticism of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Commission on the inner cities as an instance of how the leading British Jew was ‘one of us’, one of the breed of new Tories ‘disconnected from Anglicanism’, who supported economic policies that leading ‘Christian churchmen have denounced’.

It was not a very flattering portrait of Judaism that Hugo Young painted. Even so, the vitriol of the attacks on him was incredible — he received many private letters, from friends, acquaintances and total strangers. Those letters regarded his piece as insulting to Judaism and offensive to themselves as left-of-centre Jews. The kinder ones suggested that they had not expected him, of all people, to have anything to do with this kind of thing. The less extreme letters claimed to be saddened by the piece. There were more aggressive letters which argued that Hugo Young’s piece was the veiled anti-Semitism of a middle-class liberal, infinitely nastier than the obvious anti-Semitism of right-wing thugs. And one person, a Rabbi Lewis of London, N.16, wrote to the Press Council with a formal complaint, in which he spoke of ‘deliberate and ugly generalised statements of an anti-Semitic character’, and argued that ‘the article as a whole is anti-Semitic in tone, offering an updated version of the old canard of the international Jewish conspiracy’.

That complaint was ultimately not pursued. But meanwhile the Guardian had published two letters, one from Colin Shindler, editor of the Jewish Quarterly, and one from myself. Both of us took Hugo Young to task for his caricaturing of Jews. Both of us reacted strongly. To my mind, in retrospect, we reacted too strongly, confusing generalisations as a result of insufficient sensitisation to Jewish worries with blatant anti-Semitism. [Emphasis added] I say much of this to my shame, for I fell into a trap. I flared up at Hugo Young on the telephone, partly out of irritation at my massively interrupted family breakfast, but more out of anger at what he had written, out of fury at his characterisation of Judaism in that way, his despising of so many values of modern Conservatism which he derived from a generalised and inadequate picture of Judaism. Briefly, I thought of Hugo Young as an anti-Semite — a man who could legitimately argue that ‘some of my best friends are Jews’ (some of them are mine, too), but whose perception of Jews and Judaism was distinctly unfavourable and tinged with a despising mockery. I use this example advisedly — of myself — because I look back at it with regret. Hugo Young is not an anti-Semite. He was wrong — and far too selective in his sources — in his analysis of Judaism. He oversimplified. I think even his conclusions were wrong. But that does not make him an anti-Semite, conscious or unconscious.

Yet it was all too easy to fall into the trap. His caricaturing of Judaism as ‘ambition, purposefulness, material success and self-help towards self-advancement’ read all too easily as ‘pushy’, ‘arrogantly single-minded’, worshipping ‘the golden calf of international materialism’ as Colin Shindler described it in his subsequent letter to the Guardian. The antennae react instantly. And when one asks oneself why, it always, in some curious way, comes back to Israel. For it is in regard to Israel and her policies that liberal middle-class intellectuals find themselves most vulnerable, most confused. Hugo Young was writing about Mrs Thatcher’s visit to Israel. He was describing her ‘Jewish vote’ in Finchley. (A questionable entity, though the large number of Finchley voters who are Jewish make it necessary for Mrs Thatcher to be familiar with things Jewish). He was suggesting that Mrs Thatcher visited Israel out of her link with Jews, rather than out of Britain’s best interests. Whether he was right or not is irrelevant. What is indisputable is that he was arguing the case for a sectional interest. 

[Section omitted from original article]

There is one thing I forgot to mention. It is extraordinarily infectious as an attitude. When I look back at my reaction to Hugo Young’s article, I see how pervasive a force it is. For I do not share its premises, nor its techniques. And yet I too complained, shouted ‘Anti-Semitism’, as if that were a rational argument . . . Yet that we can all be affected I am now convinced, for our sensitivities are often a more powerful force than our intellects and powers of reason, however considerable. [Emphasis added]

First published in Index on Censorship, January 1987 (Volume 16, No.1), pp.2, 12-13.

Posted in General, Issues | 73 Comments »

Letter from London – Turbulent Times: Apocalypse Now or a New Vilna?

Posted by Admin on November 15, 2010

Antony Lerman

‘Turbulent Times’ is the title of a new and important book about the British Jewish community today. ‘Turbulent times’ might also describe the prediction for the Jewish future that most in the audience worryingly subscribed to at a debate on whether Jews are growing ashamed to be Jewish that took place on Monday 25 October. I say ‘might’ and ‘worryingly’ because the book with the TT title realistically describes an obstacle-strewn path which, over twenty years, has nonetheless been rather effectively navigated and could lead to a bright Jewish future. While the TT prediction is a rather mild characterization of the belief that we’re about to be engulfed by an anti-Jewish apocalypse of monumental proportions.

I previewed this debate, in which I was one of four speakers, a month ago and wrote about how much I was looking forward to it. I didn’t plan to return to it here, but the outcome tells us something important about the state of mind of British Jewry and perhaps also of European Jewry more widely. Only last week, the President of the European Jewish Congress, Moshe Kantor, darkly warned of ‘small communities [in Europe] . . . teetering on the brink of extinction’ because of an ‘antisemitic onslaught’. With this tone suffusing Monday’s debate, I felt rather foolish having thought that I might enjoy it.

Apocalyptic fear for the Jewish future in Europe is nothing new in recent years. This is how the 21st century began, with dire warnings about an imminent re-run of Kristalnacht and a rapidly approaching end to Jewish life across the continent, though I don’t believe it was anything like a majority view. I might be wrong, but I think that had Monday’s debate been staged eight years ago, not only would there have been great puzzlement about the subject matter, there would also have been considerable scepticism about predictions of the coming apocalypse, although a not insignificant sense of unease about the future would have been expressed.

We were discussing ‘ashamed Jews’ because the British Jewish novelist Howard Jacobson had parodied this genus in his latest work of fiction, The Finkler Question, which recently won the Man Booker prize, Britain’s most prestigious literary award. When asked what he was going to do with the £50,000 prize money, he replied: ‘Buy my wife a handbag.’ The ashamed Jews are a group of Israel-hating, Jewishness-denying media luvvies which meets at London’s Groucho Club and calls itself ‘ASHamed Jews’. The Finkler in the title is a highly successful author of popular books on philosophy, who becomes the group’s leading light.

Howard Jacobson kicked off the debate by reading key passages from his book about a meeting of the ASHamed Jews. He followed this up with dire warnings about the consequences of the perfidy of such Jews and the mounting atmosphere of insane Jew-hatred gripping the British chattering classes. He was more than just supported by Melanie Phillips, one of the country’s leading columnists who writes for the right-wing Daily Mail and also for the Jewish Chronicle. Melanie, who frequently appears on radio and television in current affairs discussions, spoke of ‘Jews demonising Israel’ as ‘uniquely diabolical’ and laid out her by now well-known thesis that a worldwide surge of left-wing, Islamist, genocidal Jew-hatred is about to engulf us all. And left-wing, Israel-hating Jews are providing support to this genocidal project.

Together with Brian Klug, an Oxford University philosopher and author of a new book, Being Jewish and Doing Justice, I disputed this scenario and argued that ‘ASHamed Jews’ are largely a figment of the imagination, a phrase used to demonise Jews whose views we disagree with. While there are serious problems of antisemitism, and some anti-Zionism is a form of it, Jews who question the path Israel is taking today are not contributing to it. Vilifying them is simply sitting in judgement on their Jewishness. Far better for Jews of different ideological persuasions to engage in debate and dialogue over real differences than to resort to name-calling and politically-motivated insults.

I have no intention of using this letter to continue the argument and prosecute my case. What I want to convey is that our respective views were so polarised, it seemed, that any observer would have recognised the absence of dialogue between the two sides. And I freely admit that the majority of the audience firmly supported the positions adopted by Howard and Melanie.

There is, however, an incongruity here that needs to be brought out. We were sitting in Hampstead Town Hall, in one of the most prosperous and liberal parts of London. The well-heeled, packed Jewish audience—there was standing room only—are unlikely to feel the pain of the drastic spending cuts and job losses now being introduced by the new government, which includes a number of Jewish ministers. An unashamedly Jewish novelist had won a prestigious prize and we were celebrating it. Only a few weeks ago a Jew, Ed Miliband, who fully acknowledges his Jewish background, was elected leader of the Labour Party. It’s a mystery to me that the majority at such a gathering of British Jews should so warmly and enthusiastically embrace an apocalyptic eschatology of a kind found almost exclusively among Christian sects like the Christadelphians. I may not be a world expert on Jewish theology, but I never thought this sort of apocalyptic thinking played any part in Jewish teaching.

These are certainly ‘Turbulent Times’, but the debate goes on as to whether it’s a creative turmoil that could well be leading to a revivified Jewishness that jostles productively and satisfyingly for its place in today’s multicultural reality, or a terminal disorder that will result in a new Holocaust. Unashamed, I know where I stand.

Turbulent Times: The British Jewish Community Today by Keith Kahn-Harris and Ben Gidley is published by Continuum Books.

Posted in General, Issues | 257 Comments »

Antony Lerman on antisemitism in Scotland

Posted by Admin on June 9, 2010

Antony Lerman

Controversy over the extent of antisemitism in Scotland has come to the country’s small but resilient Jewish community. The issue has engaged the attention of the SNP first minister, Alex Salmond, civil servants in the Scottish government, the Scottish police service, the Scotsman newspaper, the Community Security Trust (CST – the UK Jewish community’s defence body) and the Jewish Chronicle. In microcosm, it reflects both the wider confusion about the current state of antisemitism and the perennial issue facing all minority communities: “Who speaks for us?”

Two weeks ago Salmond sympathetically addressed Jewish sensitivities at a meeting organised by the Glasgow Jewish Educational Forum (GJEF) and gave this uncompromising message: “We will root out antisemitic and racist behaviour through the courts wherever we find it and will do everything we can to monitor such behaviour.” But he said there is no wave of antisemitic behaviour and he did not believe that the Jewish community is under siege nor “that it feels itself to be under siege”.

Salmond was responding to an assertion made by Martin Bright in the Jewish Chronicle based on information given to him by the Scottish Council of Jewish Communities (SCoJeC), which claims to represent all the Scottish Jewish communities, that the steep decline in the Jewish population in Scotland is partly a result of growing antisemitism. But his address was also prompted by the erroneous claim in Bright’s article that the Scottish government had committed itself to launch an investigation into this alleged connection. Officials in the Scottish government have made it clear that while they are committed to doing all they can to ensure the safety of Scotland’s Jews – as they are for all Scotland’s minorities – no such investigation has been promised.

GJEF, a body committed to giving space to alternative Jewish views, disputes the claim of growing antisemitism and believes SCoJeC is exaggerating the threat and this will only harm the interests of Jews living in Scotland. The shrinking population is due to well-known trends: assimilation, children moving elsewhere, declining birthrate.

The CST’s communications director, Mark Gardner, appeared to give credence to SCoJeC’s claims in a speech on 25 May in Glasgow. Acknowledging disagreement in the community on the issue, he said: “Statistically things are worse.” Some people in small communities “feel far worse than they felt previously”. And he seemed to link it to “aggressive and extreme” pro-Palestinian activity.

SCoJeC has now upped the ante by calling for research into antisemitism in Scotland. “It might be antisemitism in the playground, it might be in the classroom, it might be some form of institutional antisemitism,” said SCoJeC’s director, Ephraim Borowski. SCoJeC claims that the police aren’t properly registering antisemitic incidents, and that some are occurring that the CST “did not know about”.

On the face of it, grounds for concern seem slight. CST reported 10 recorded incidents in 2008 (541 in the UK as a whole). It rose to 30 in 2009 (UK total: 924), most of them occurring at the time of the Gaza offensive. But up to May 2010, numbers had fallen back considerably. SCoJeC’s announcement of incidents unknown to the CST seems distinctly odd. The two bodies work very closely together. Why should SCoJeC seem to want to appear deliberately at odds with the CST, especially since the CST are not slow to use incident figures to raise the alarm?

There may well be fewer than 10,000 Jews in Scotland, a place traditionally seen as a tolerant and welcoming place for Jews. Any incidents are to be deplored, but drawing alarmist conclusions and hinting at the possibility of “institutional antisemitism” on the basis of such small numbers hardly seems justified. Bodies claiming to represent minority communities do tend to use perceived threats as a means of asserting their authority. If SCoJeC is doing this because it deems GJEF to be encroaching on its territory, this would be misguided. GJEF has no representative ambitions. Its aim is simply to encourage open, frank and informed debate so that the diversity of views in the community can be heard.

Quite appropriately, SCoJeC meets with the Scottish government, which, as Salmond confirmed, is more than willing to listen to the concerns of anyone in the Jewish community. (In fact, the government has a policy of speaking to diverse groups in minority communities in order to obtain a rounded picture of opinion.) He even made a point of saying: “I don’t think we should accept as a community that your position in Scottish society should be judged or affected by the policies of Israel. The Jewish community is not liable for those policies.”

But the response of SCoJeC’s public affairs officer, Leah Granat, to Salmond’s address and its suggestion that the authorities in Scotland are not properly categorising incidents seems to imply a degree of criticism of the SNP government and the police, which is unjustified. Scottish civil servants and the police are extraordinarily receptive to Jewish concerns, keen to learn as much as they can about the dynamics of antisemitism and determined to create a positive environment in Scotland in which all minorities can celebrate their contributions to Scottish society and maintain and develop their cultural traditions.

As we know all too well, tensions and disagreements in Jewish communities, however small, are not uncommon. But they can be creatively exploited and managed in such a way as to generate vibrant and relevant discussion about issues of the moment.

Small communities can more easily sustain themselves than in the past. So while research on antisemitism should always be encouraged, how will it help Jews in Scotland if it throws up the existence of a Holocaust denier on the Mull of Kintyre? If sustaining Jewish life in Scotland is the priority, money would be better spent on research into positive methods of achieving cultural renewal, drawing on the success achieved in communities elsewhere in the UK, in Europe more widely and in the United States. Politicising antisemitism and demonising pro-Palestinian activism will not be helpful.

© Guardian News and Media Limited 2010.

GJEF would like to thank the Guardian for granting permission to publish this article. To follow the debate on the Guardian’s Comment is Free website, please click here »

Antony Lerman’s rejoinder to Mark Gardner:

Part I

It’s good that Mark Gardner entered this discussion. Athough he and CST only get a few brief mentions in my piece, and I quote accurately from CST statistics and from the only report available of his remarks in Glasgow, which was published in the Jewish Telegraph, his thoughts on what I raise are significant since he is Communications Director for the UK Jewish Community’s defence body and therefore represents what one might call an official community view.

Unfortunately, however – and I’ve had occasion to point this out to him before – he has the regrettable habit of purporting to comment authoritatively on a text without having the good grace to read and absorb exactly what it says. In this instance, he seems to have tripped himself up and misrepresented my views in a headlong rush to launch an attack on me.

Just to clear up a couple of matters first. Yes, I’m guilty of deliberately hiding my relations with GJEF. How stupid of me then to have provided a link to the GJEF website where there is ample evidence of talks I’ve given to GJEF, articles I’ve written which GJEF re-posts, a report on the talk on antisemitism I gave to the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland, which GJEF facilitated, etc. Note to self: must try covering things up better next time.

Second, Mark Gardner implies that I ignored the Borowski-Collins report Scotland’s Jews: Community and Political Challenges and failed to provide a link to it. Wrong. I read it and link to it in the 3rd paragraph (the third link). Proof positive of Mark Gardner’s failure to do me the minimum courtesy of actually reading my piece.

He takes every opportunity to ratchet up my reasonable comments, critique and questioning approach and turn them into extreme statements. I employ a little humour to illustrate the potential drawbacks of the kind of research on antisemitism in Scotland which might be undertaken – and this draws the insult that I “mock people’s fears about racism”. I calmly and reasonably question the wisdom of such a research exercise – and this becomes “disdain for SCoJeC’s research plans”. I make it perfectly clear that it’s right for SCoJeC to discuss these matters with the Scottish government, that the government properly takes into account Jewish concerns – but my perfectly reasonable question as to how such research might help becomes “his rubbishing of SCoJeC’s attempts to work with Scottish govt”, and my “bizarre opposition”. I make a general statement about “demonising pro-Palestinian activism” – and this becomes my “trashing” of everything SCoJeC does. This kind of epithet inflation is unworthy of someone in Mark Gardner’s position.

Perhaps research isn’t Mark Gardner’s strong point. If it was, he’d know that not every proposed piece of research is either affordable or desirable. And no, there’s no guarantee that the kind of research which seems to be suggested (and we don’t really know exactly what this is) will end politicisation of the issue or prove whether the concern about antisemitism is demonising pro-Palestinian activism. On the contrary, it could quite easily make matters worse. For argument’s sake, if research showed very low levels of antisemitism, or a kind of antisemitism which has no appreciable impact on Jewish life, would that allay the fears Mark Gardner refers to? I doubt it.

Part II

It’s well known that people’s fears of crime are not justified by the statistics and the surveys, yet awareness of those statistics doesn’t stop people having the most real fears that crime is rife. So people’s fears about antisemitism are very real to them, whether there is much of a threat or not, and need to be addressed directly. I respectfully suggest that research into the extent of antisemitism – which, if people have got the money and analytical expertise they are perfectly free to undertake – is not necessary in order to mount efforts which would help people feel more safe.

And while the Borowski-Collins paper is generally a good piece of work, I’m afraid that even the very small reference to antisemitism in the first bullet point Mark Gardner quotes is troubling. No serious evidence is given for the assertion of a “significant increase” in antisemitism, but this is immediately followed by reference to the Scottish trade union movement’s policy of boycotting Israel – the clear implication being, it seems to me, that this policy is antisemitic, thereby serving to justify the assertion of “significant increase”. This is where the demonising of pro-Palestinian activism comes in: oppose the boycott, argue that the boycott is unjustified, that it won’t work etc., but to imply that it is, a priori, antisemitic is without foundation. Any piece of research that began with such an a priori premise would indeed be a flawed exercise.

As for Mark Gardner’s implication that I mount an unjustified attack on SCoJeC for its politicisation of the issue, this, too, is grossly overstating what I write. He knows as well as I do that bodies claiming to represent minority communities are not above taking hot button issues and manipulating them to exert influence and control. I merely raise the question as to whether SCoJeC is doing this. I would be more than happy to acknowledge that they are not operating in this way. Perhaps an open discussion with GJEF and others on how best to help Jews feel safe, before any further discussions are held between SCoJeC and the Scottish government, would help in this regard. I’m sure SCoJeC have the interests of Scottish Jewry at heart, as I feel I do – especially having lived and worked in Glasgow for a year in the late 60s as a Jewish youth leader and retaining great affection for the place to this day.

Finally, one more word of advice for Mark Gardner. I realise that, to all intents and purposes, you’re a Jewish communal civil servant, and that it’s fashionable in your organization and others to parrot this kind of thing about my views: “far stupider than even Tony Lerman’s part-hidden underlying suggestion that those who express concern [about antisemitism] are merely some kind of Zionist frauds”. But I always thought you might be above this kind of contemptible and nauseating innuendo. It’s the sort of comment I’d expect from someone who knows nothing of, or seeks to rubbish, the service I’ve given to the Jewish community over decades, and betrays woeful ignorance of my views on Israel-Palestine. Show some independence Mark. Don’t stoop so low in future.

Part III

I think you’re in a hole Mark and the best thing to do is stop digging. I pointed out how you misrepresented my views in your earlier posts. You offer no defence. Instead you perpetrate further misrepresentations, presuming to know so much about my life that you can confidently say what my “primary role is”. Again, you resort to insult: “as often as not” I’m supposed to be saying that antisemitism “mentioned by UK Jewish groups” is “really just pro-Israelis trying to pull the wool over other people’s eyes.” This is a figment of your imagination. How you read such a view into my Cif piece is incomprehensible. It can only arise from the fact that you have fixed, preconceived notions about what I write. You certainly admit to making presumptions (about my link to the SCoJeC paper). Your presumptions about my views are just as false as your presumption about what was in my link. If you’re predisposed to think that all I ever say or mean is that “pro-Israelis are pulling the wool over people’s eyes”, which you obviously are, why should anyone now trust what you say?

I think the Jewish community should really be worried that the public face of antisemitism defence in the UK indulges in stereotyping and demonising someone who simply calls for a reasoned debate about what antisemitism consists of today and how serious the problem of antisemitism is. Your attitude to my writings on this indicate that this is not a debate you are prepared to have. That you say “very many others whom I know” agree with you is even more troubling. It’s not proof that you’re right, rather proof that a herd mentality, a group think divorced from reality, has gripped you and your colleagues.

To return to the main article, please click here »

Posted in General, Issues | 186 Comments »

The Letter the JC Declined to Publish

Posted by Admin on June 4, 2010

GJEF have decided to publish the text of letter that was submitted to the Jewish Chronicle in response to their misleading report of the First Minister’s address to the community. The letter was rejected for publication by the Chronicle.

There is a great deal more to say about this matter, and we intend to release a detailed statement next week.

Dear Sir,

Regrettably, Leon Symons’ article last week about the First Minister’s address to the Scottish Jewish community was inaccurate.

Firstly, it did not explain to your readers the sequence of events that led to Mr Salmond accepting the Glasgow Jewish Educational Forum’s invitation to talk directly to our community. As was made clear to your reporter by the First Minister, it was Martin Bright’s contention that the community had shrunk in size due to the increase of antisemitism (JC, 19th March) that compelled the First Minister to state that the Jewish community is not under siege and that Scotland is a good place for Jews to live. That conclusion would not have been evident to anyone reading Bright’s article.

Irresponsible articles and reporting have led some to believe that Martin Bright’s article was accurate, and it is to Mr Salmond’s credit that he thought it important to set out the Scottish Government’s position. Your reporter also did not point out that Mr Salmond was well-received, and our feedback is that most of the audience welcomed and appreciated his commitment to discuss these issues directly with anyone in the Jewish community.

Finally, the Glasgow Jewish Educational Forum are concerned at the repeated attempts of SCoJeC to exaggerate the threat of antisemitism, which will only cause harm to the interests of Jews living in Scotland.

Yours sincerely,

Michael Samuel
Jeremy Stein
Tony Tankel

Glasgow Jewish Educational Forum.

Posted in General, Issues | 9 Comments »

First Minister to Address the Jewish Community

Posted by Admin on May 5, 2010

We are delighted to announce that the First Minister, the Rt Hon Alex Salmond MSP, will address the Glasgow Jewish Community on Tuesday 25th May 2010 at Mearns Castle High School Theatre at 8.00pm.

The title of his lecture will be: “Scotland’s Jewish Community”.

The First Minister has stated that he wishes to address the Glasgow Jewish Community directly at a public meeting, and he welcomes the opportunity to discuss recent press articles about antisemitism.

We are honoured that the First Minister has again agreed to talk directly to our entire community about issues that concern every one of us. Many will remember the excellent meeting in April 2008, when the First Minister spent an unprecedented amount of time taking questions from the audience, and we are again delighted that after his address he will allocate time for questions. Hearing from Mr Salmond in person about how the Scottish Government perceives the Jewish community in Scotland, and being able to ask him about areas of concern will be a unique opportunity for everyone.

The lecture will be open to all members of the community, and we anticipate a very high demand for tickets. There will be a £5 donation per person, which will help recover some of the costs. We hope that you can be with us on what we are sure will be a memorable occasion. To apply for tickets for the event, please use the Contact form on the website. (Please note that there will be no sale of tickets on the night; all tickets must be purchased in advance).

Posted in General, Issues, Meetings | 32 Comments »

Pro-Israel and the Responsibility of British Jews

Posted by Admin on April 20, 2010

Nicholas Saphir

Nicholas-Saphir The State of Israel has journeyed from survival to military and economic power; from underdog to tough negotiator; from light unto the nations to pariah subjected to asymmetric demands in regard to the conduct of war and human rights; from being the unchallenged friend of the United States to the intransigent child being faced by an ally who wants to change the rules. This complex transition has resulted in an Israeli government who demands hasbara rather than dialogue and reacts to the pressure by challenging deeply held Jewish values of equality and social justice, even within the Green Line of Israel itself.

British Jewry’s traditional support for the Israeli Government ‘right or wrong’ is being increasingly questioned. There are those who disassociate themselves from the Israel that has evolved. Some fund Israeli activists in seeking to bring about equality and social justice for all Israeli citizens. Others, amongst the religious nationalists, increasingly argue for the permanent inclusion of the occupied territories within the Promised Land and an ever more restrictive religious character for the State.

What is clear is that as the differences within the community are widening, intolerance is growing. More importantly many of our younger generation are conflating the challenge of our relationship with Israel with their own Jewish identity. It is to them and to the State of Israel, rather than to its Government, which we owe the duty to discuss the issues in determining what we mean when we say that we are pro-Israel.

Nicholas Saphir is the Chair of New Israel Fund UK.


Update 5th May:

On Tuesday 8th June, Nicholas Saphir will be speaking at public meeting at Calderwood Lodge Primary School at 8pm. The title of his lecture will be: “Supporting Israel does not require blinkers”.

Posted in General, Issues | 10 Comments »

The Conservatives, Antisemitism and Extremism in Europe

Posted by Admin on November 19, 2009

Jim Murphy

Last week I blogged on this site about the Tories’ new friends in European politics. Over the weekend I thought I should post something more detailed about antisemitism in Europe more generally and, in particular, the Tories’ appalling new alliances.

The leader of the Tories’ new political grouping in Europe is none other than Michal Kaminski, a Polish politician with an antisemitic, neo-Nazi past. The charges against Kaminski include his poisonous view that Poland should not apologise for the massacre of hundreds of Jews. Journalists have now disclosed the details of his past. Kaminski told a prominent paper, Nasza Polska, that the Polish President “should withhold apologies” for the massacre by Poles, with SS assistance, of hundreds of Jews in the village of Jedwabne in July 1941. He went further than that to become a founder of the Committee to Defend the Good Name of Jedwabne, an organisation which was established to deny the historical facts of the massacre at Jedwabne.

Our Foreign Secretary David Miliband has rightly condemned the Tories about their new friends, and has been attacked by the Tory Party in London. But David Miliband is right to speak out. His family is one of many with painful personal memories and deep loss from the Holocaust. I look forward to David taking up my invitation to come to East Renfrewshire in the New Year to speak to the Jewish community. The Tories should be ashamed of themselves for teaming up with people with extreme views, and then attacking the Foreign Secretary for telling the truth.

I also noticed some of the comments over the weekend on this blog. My original posting has sparked some debate. Some people used this as an attempt to attack my politics or to criticise others in the Jewish community. My aim is much more straightforward than that: to draw attention to a real worry I have about the Tory Party’s new alliances in Europe.

I was interested to read that my good friend Rabbi Barry Marcus (Orthodox Rabbi of London’s Central Synagogue) and others have criticised the Tory partnership with Kaminski. I first got to know Rabbi Marcus some years ago when I started helping organise visits to Auschwitz for Scottish school pupils. Rabbi Marcus accompanied us and helped the children understand what they were seeing and feeling. He also led us in prayer in Auschwitz. He is a good and honest man. Rabbi Marcus’ intervention should shake party members out of their support for the crazy decision of the Tory Party leadership. His words should encourage would-be Tory MPs out of their silence. But so far no Tory MP or candidate is willing to stand up and be counted.

This is a sorry episode for the Conservative Party. There are many very good people in the Conservative Party, some of whom I consider to be good friends. But their party leadership have left a political grouping which includes Nicolas Sarkozy of France and Angela Merkel of Germany. Instead they have joined forces with dark and unsavoury characters. It’s not too late for decent Tories to break their silence.

I want to make some much broader points related to this controversy about antisemitism in Europe and beyond. Some of these comments come from a speech I made in the House of Commons:

Europe is today possibly the most tolerant of all continents. But Europe has experienced historic struggles between tolerance and faith and race based hatreds. We all know that European antisemitism is not a new phenomenon.

As we all know intellectualised antisemitism is not a new phenomenon. Throughout history the Jew of the antisemites’ destructive imagination has been simultaneously weak and inferior whilst also being all powerful. The French thinker and socialist Dohm articulated and reinforced a common perception of advanced thinkers on the eve of the French revolution that the Jews were indeed inferior but could be changed for the better. The French revolutionary thinker Fourier said “Are the Jews not the leprosy and the perdition of the body politic? In short the Jews are a parasitical sect.”  But perhaps uniquely Jews have an alter image of omnipotent and all powerful. And there always appears to be a utilitarian purpose for theories of antisemitism.

They have been blamed for many major European wars including the Napoleonic, First and Second World Wars. During the Boer War some in Britain accused the Government of pandering to Jewish gold mine owners in South Africa. During the Russian civil war Jews were interchangeably portrayed as being behind both the revolution and counter revolutionary forces. In fact counter-revolutionary officers circulated the fraudulent early 20th century antisemitic tome the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. This utilitarian function is what is different from the discriminatory instincts and violent actions against other faiths in the past.

The Extreme Right, such as the BNP has at least two ways to rationalise its stand. Firstly, the tangible hatred of “the other” – be it Jew or Muslim or anyone different. Every society has its other – the visibly, culturally, ethnically or religiously different individuals in communities that helps a society form its own identity. For long periods in Europe the Jews were the only substantial other. But the Hard Right view of supremacy based on demonising the other is a twisted logic. Because, as we know, if our identity is formed by what we are not, it is a weak and fragile identity that will lead inevitability towards destructive competition and conflict. The Jewish community, of course, understands only too well the destructive power of the myth of the other.

The UK Government is amongst the most acutely aware of its responsibility of perhaps any government in the world. Not only is HMG providing some financing for the launch of this new think tank in the form of Department for Communities and Local Government’s commission of work on antisemitic discourse, but we are fully committed to supporting this initiative. From our perspective, it is excellent that we will have an independent, London-based body to draw advice from. Research and statistics on antisemitism in Europe, and racism more broadly, remains poor and we think there is real scope for this organisation to make a difference – including with the EU Fundamental Rights Agency, which has experienced difficulties dealing with antisemitism in the past as a result of having commissioned poor research.

Our commitment is absolute. That is the reason we welcomed the All Party Inquiry into Antisemitism and its important recommendations to the police, the Home Office, Government departments, schools and universities on steps to take to monitor antisemitism better and to reduce levels of abuse.

For those of us in public life we have a responsibility to speak out. I have always stood up against antisemitism regardless of where I find it, whether it is from left-wing or right-wing politicians. I have written and spoken about it before in Parliament and beyond. We should all do everything we can to challenge antisemitism, particularly those of us who are elected to positions of responsibility.

The Rt Hon Jim Murphy MP is the Secretary of State for Scotland.

Posted in General, Issues | 400 Comments »

Between Tradition and Modernity: The View From a Masorti Perspective

Posted by Admin on November 5, 2009

Rabbi Jeremy GordonOn Monday 11th January 2010, GJEF will be holding a very special meeting with Rabbi Jeremy Gordon of the New London Synagogue, in which he will examine the Masorti Vision of Judaism. The meeting will be held at Calderwood Lodge Primary School at 8.00pm. The title of his lecture is: “Between Tradition and Modernity: The View From a Masorti Perspective”.

Rabbi Jeremy Gordon has a first class honours degree in Law from Cambridge University and subsequently went to work in television for the BBC and a number of independent production companies. His love of Judaism was really ignited at the Limmud Conference in December 1995. This marked the start of a decade of study in England, at the Hebrew University and the Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem and the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York. He graduated from JTS with Rabbinic Ordination, a Masters in Midrash (Rabbinic Exegesis) and a number of academic awards.

While in New York, Rabbi Gordon trained as a hospital Chaplain and spent many hours working as a Chaplain with the Red Cross in the aftermath of the September 11th suicide attacks. He has been active in a number of social action campaigns – particularly relating to refugee issues and international development – and has served as convenor of a major interfaith dialogue forum in New York.

His academic interests include Midrash, which he teaches at Leo Baeck College, and contemporary Jewish legal Responsa. In January 2008, Rabbi Gordon was appointed as the rabbi of the New London Synagogue.

For more information about Masorti Judaism, please see the following links:

The Assembley of Masorti Synagogues

What is Masorti?

Darkenu – A Vision of Masorti Judaism

Rabbi Gordon’s Blog

New London Synagogue

Posted in General, Issues, Meetings | 62 Comments »

An Evening with Ivan Lewis MP

Posted by Admin on August 23, 2009

On Wednesday 16th September GJEF will be holding a unique event with Ivan Lewis MP, Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs.

Mr Lewis has agreed to take part in a dialogue with the Middle East analyst, Dr Tony Klug. They will discuss the UK Government’s policy towards Israel and the Palestinians, and the search for peace in the Middle East; there will also be an opportunity to ask questions. Jim Murphy MP, Secretary of State for Scotland, has helped facilitate this meeting and he will also speak during the evening.

We have decided that Eastwood House would be an appropriate venue for such a special evening – a real opportunity to hear a serious and important discussion about Government policy towards Israel.

If you would like to reserve a ticket for the event, please use the Contact form on the website.

Posted in Issues, Meetings | 146 Comments »

 
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