(This article was first published
in the Jewish News on August 7, 2014)
One of the byproducts of the Gaza conflict has been the circulation of
articles from newspapers, websites and various other sources offering comment
or supposed insight into what is happening.
A few days after the fighting
began, articles about what is happening in Europe and the seemingly inevitable
protests and, in some cases, violent demonstrations from the pro-Palestinian
anti-Israel lobby began to be distributed.
As these articles are circulated,
here in the USA I assume a new role as the unofficial spokesperson for British,
and often European, Jewry, called upon to offer comment on what is happening.
I have now lived in America for
six of the last eight years, and I therefore
find it difficult to offer
authoritative comment on what is happening.
However, as an Englishman in New
York, the BBC remains the first website I go to when checking the news, and
through my social networks I do find myself reading and following the British
press quite extensively.
Usually in these articles, and
often in the questions which are then posed to me, there is an assumption that the
problems in Britain and Europe have been caused by the ever increasing Muslim
population, which is assumed by default, to be violently anti-Israel.
Often there are troubling
photographs supporting these assertions, although with no way of knowing where
they actually come from. I am then asked about my experiences of the Muslim
community in Britain, and whether I experienced any of this anti-Israel feeling
My regular response to this line
of questioning is to reminisce about my time as a Rabbi at West London
Synagogue. Based just off the Edgware Road, West London is a community in the
heart of a significant Arab and Middle Eastern population.
I always enjoy telling people
about the fact that the local Lebanese grocery shop catered many of our events,
and how meetings would often be held in Middle Eastern restaurants in the
vicinity, where we were always warmly welcomed.
In the two years when I worked at
West London Synagogue, I remember only one occasion when a protest march
proceeded down the Edgware Road. This was not an anti-Israel demonstration;
instead, as I recall, the people were marching in connection to calls for
I in no way felt threatened, and
despite the fact that they were less than a hundred yards from the synagogue, we were left completely in peace.
After dealing with this line of
questioning I do, however, feel compelled to continue my commentary on the
situation in Britain as I personally think there is something that is of far greater concern for the Jewish community
and supporters of Israel.
My concern, which I share in my
capacity as unofficial spokesperson, is the way thatviciously anti-Israel
comments have become acceptable in polite society, how the mainstream media’s
default position appears to be condemnation of Israel, and that Hamas are
almost never labeled as the terrorists they so clearly are.
I remember when I first came to
live in America in 2006; I took a taxi from the airport. On the radio they were
discussing the situation in the Middle East, and I was struck by the fact that
the commentator and the host did not hesitate to label Hamas as a terrorist
As they continued their
discussion I felt comfortable listening; as a supporter of Israel I did not
feel that they were attacking the country I love or by extension the Jewish
Unfortunately, all too often in
Britain, when Israel is the subject, I tend to feel vilified, condemned and
attacked by the media and the majority of journalists and contributors.
There is a clear double standard
in the way that the British media deal with Israel in contrast with virtually
every other country and event in the rest of the world.
Articles have appeared in the
last couple of weeks asking the question of why there has been virtual silence
in the face of the slaughter of tens of
thousands in Syria, and yet there has been moral outrage over the actions of
Either the media are making a
statement about the value of Palestinian life as opposed to Syrian life or, as
seems more likely, there is a difference when the Israel Defence Force is
involved as opposed to any other army or fighting force in the world.
Reading various commentaries I
was struck by Howard Jacobson’s insightful and compelling article, which
appeared in The Independent in February 2009. He wrote an opinion piece
entitled: ‘Let’s see the ‘criticism’ of Israel for what it really is.’
In it he thoughtfully and
articulately demonstrated why the criticism of Israel, prevalent in British
society, is, at its root, yet another display of anti-Semitism.
And when I am asked to give my
comment on what is happening in Britain and Europe, this is what causes me the
Expressions of anti-Israel
feelings are the latest incarnation of anti-Semitism, and the most worrying
thing is that these sentiments have become acceptable.
It is unacceptable to make
anti-Semitic comments in polite society, but anyone can make or write
Often they draw on anti-Semitic
stereotypes, they talk about Israelis in racial terms, and frequently they slip
up using the words Israelis and Jews interchangeably.
As Howard Jacobson wrote: “you
don’t have to be an anti-Semite to criticise Israel. It just so happens that