Glasgow Jewish Educational Forum

Archive for November, 2009

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 | 61 Comments »