A recent study has suggested that over half of Britain’s Jews feel they have no future in the UK. At first glance this might seem outrageous, indeed incredible. Arguably (one might say) we Jews are the most successfully integrated of all the UK’s ethnic minorities. A miniscule set of communities – comprising in total 0.5 per cent of the UK’s total population – British Jewry punches well above its weight in all walks of life: the learned professions; the arts; the entertainment industries; academia; big and not so big business; even politics. Of course (you might retort) Jews have a future in the UK!
A more pertinent question might be to ask what sort of a future we Jews have. Our places of worship must be guarded night and day. Our schools must be surrounded by high fences and all manner of electronic surveillance. Our religious practices (I am thinking especially of male circumcision and humane food animal slaughter, which have been practised in this country for centuries) are now under constant attack. Kosher food counters in supermarkets are subject to sporadic but unannounced physical assault from adherents of the anti-Zionist ‘Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions’ brigade. Visiting Israeli speakers and performers risk what is termed ‘non-violent direct action’. And if we send our children to university, we need to choose with care, because the atmosphere at some taxpayer-funded campuses reeks of anti-Jewish (sometimes not even disguised as anti-Zionist) prejudice. And even when we go about our lawful business, merely walking the streets of this otherwise green and pleasant land, we Jewish men who dare to wear skullcaps or other distinctive dress risk violent physical assault.
This state of affairs has not come out of the blue. There has always been a certain level of ‘street’ anti-Semitism in this country – thuggery with an anti-ethnic edge. And there have always been a handful of extreme political groups with a distinct racial agenda, in which Jews have found themselves at the top of the list. But two additional factors have now entered the equation.
The first is that anti-Zionism has now morphed into anti-Semitism pure and simple. This was admitted by the French prime minister, Manuel Valls, even before the recent terrible events in Paris. Speaking last year at a commemoration of the four Jews killed in Toulouse in 2012, Valls observed that the ‘old’ anti-Semitism of the French far right had been renewed because ‘it feeds off anti-Zionism … anti-Zionism is an invitation to anti-Semitism’. He is right.
The second is that this anti-Zionism has found a new audience among the Muslim communities of Western Europe, including the UK. To ignore this reality is to ignore the obvious.
The debate about whether the nation-state of the Jews should be re-established is over. We can legitimately argue about the boundaries of that state – as Jews themselves do. But make no mistake. Anti-Zionism is racism pure and simple. If mainstream politicians in the UK want to reassure British Jews that our continued presence here is welcome – if not essential – they might start by shouting this truth from the rooftops.
Geoffrey Alderman is Professor of Politics & Contemporary History at the University of Buckingham