Weekends are quality time in the Alderman household. On Saturday evenings, following the termination of the Sabbath, my wife and I are accustomed to sit together, review the week that has just ended, and map out the week ahead. But last Saturday the conversation took a very different turn. My wife and I considered the drama that had unfolded in Copenhagen, and asked ourselves, for the very first time in over forty-one years of marriage, whether we should not make plans to leave (flee?) England – this green and hitherto pleasant land in which we had both been born and educated– and seek shelter in some foreign field. We considered – seriously – whether we might not apply for rights of residence in the USA (where I had once worked) or whether the better option might not lie in Israel, where we both have family, and in which, as Jews, we could settle more or less automatically.
This dialogue took place on Saturday evening. The following morning, in the wake of the Danish attack, Israel’s prime minister, Bibi Netanyahu, issued a call for all Jews of the Diaspora (certainly in Europe) to relocate to the Jewish state. An indeterminate but significant number of French Jews are already following his advice. But an equally significant number (said to be around 10,000 – perhaps more) have in fact relocated to the UK. The head of one such French-Jewish family explained to me that he regularly commutes via the Channel Tunnel to his business in Paris, but is happier that his wife and children are in London. ‘Are you an émigré or simply an exile?’ I asked. He shrugged his shoulders: ‘time will tell’.
In the past year or so, a few Anglo-Jewish families of my acquaintance have emigrated to Israel or North America. It would be wrong to characterise their decisions as having been based primarily on the fear of living any longer in the UK. But anecdotal evidence (based partly on phone conversations with London-based Jewish friends) suggests that the conversation in which my wife and I engaged last Saturday evening was certainly not unique. Indeed, given the increased level of anti-Jewish incidents in the UK over the past year, it would be surprising if this were not the case.
We British Jews are a small set of communities heavily concentrated in Greater London, Manchester and a handful of other urban and suburban areas. In total we number no more than 300,000 – probably less. As an ethnic minority we are dwarfed by British Muslim populations, and while the vast majority of these are peace-loving there can also be no doubt that some – a tiny minority perhaps – are easily influenced by a religious-based anti-Jewish rhetoric. This has for some time fed off an anti-Israeli rhetoric that is much more widely and more publicly acknowledged, and which is, I regret to say, endorsed by parliamentarians across the political spectrum. And when you add to this mix the machinations of out-and-out racists of the far left and the far right, you end up with a volatile and potentially explosive dish.
My family and I contribute regularly to Zionist causes. It’s our life-insurance policy. My wife and I are not thinking of relocating to Israel in the immediate future. But a rubicon has been crossed: we have turned over the possibility in our minds.
Geoffrey Alderman is Professor of Politics & Contemporary History at the University of Buckingham
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