Standing shoulder to shoulder with our Jewish friends
By Lord Dolar Popat,
There has been a lot of talk about antisemitism in the past few months. But should the British Indian community be concerned? The answer is yes.
Antisemitism is a scourge that goes well-beyond the Jewish community. It goes right to the heart of our British values, raising serious questions about who we are as a country and a society at a time of immense uncertainty. And it is for this reason I decided to bring the debate to the House of Lords earlier this week.
History teaches us that hatred that starts with Jews, does not end there. The Holocaust did not claim only Jewish lives. Extremist terrorism is not only aimed at Jews. Far right hatred does not only target Jews. When prejudice – any prejudice – rears its ugly head, no community can afford to stay in its comfort zone. Because hate know no bounds. As Dr Rami Ranger mentioned in his “Letters to Editor” last week [4 September 2018], when any community comes under threat, it is only a matter of when, not if, other groups will fall victim.
As British Indians, it is our duty to stand shoulder to shoulder with our Jewish friends. We are no strangers to prejudice ourselves. We faced many challenges as immigrants trying to integrate into British society. In those early days it was the Jewish community that welcomed Ugandan Asians with open arms. The Board of Deputies of British Jews were at the forefront in helping Ugandan Asians to settle and to adjust to our new lives here in Britain.
In many ways our success as a community is down to the Jewish community who we looked up on as our role models. Here in Britain, we have emulated their successful formula of building a better life for ourselves and our families. Our commonality of purpose has also been mirrored on a much larger scale with India and Israel now firm allies. The India-Israel relationship continues to strengthen especially since the official visits by Prime Minister Modi and Prime Minister Netanyahu to each respective state in attempts to further increase bilateral trade between both countries.
Over the years, our two communities grew to know each other very well, as friends, colleagues, business partners and neighbours who continue to live side by side. We developed a strong bond based on the many values our two cultures share. Both our communities attach great importance to education, enterprise, faith and family. We also feel an overarching loyalty to the country that granted us freedom and equality before the law, that created opportunities for us to realise our aspirations.
So when our Jewish friends tell us they fear for their children’s safety at schools and synagogues. When they say they are afraid to openly identify as Jewish. When they begin to question their future in this country. We must not stay silent.
It is important for us to unite and understand what lies at the heart of the Jewish community’s fears. Many of us will associate anti-Semitism with far-right thuggery, overt abuse and violent aggression. Modern anti-Semitism, however, has evolved. It is different. Today it has found subtle expression through the anti-Zionist movement and the delegitimization of the world’s one and only Jewish State, Israel. The connection between anti-Zionism and antisemitism is not always understood. Zionism is based on the proposition that the Jewish people have a right to their own country. Anti-Zionism advocates the opposite. Anti-Zionists not only reject the legitimacy of the present-day State of Israel, they believe that it should be dismantled. This is different from being critical of the Israeli government and its policies. Rejecting the existence of Israel under any circumstances by definition means the Jews are not worthy of having their own state. If that is not anti-Semitism, I don’t know what is.
Many anti-Zionists justify their position on anti-colonial and humanitarian grounds. On the surface their arguments might seem reasonable, even virtuous. But ask yourself: Why is it acceptable to have many Hindu, Muslim and Christian states? Should we on this basis question the legitimacy of countries such as the USA, Australia, Pakistan, Bangladesh and the modern countries of the Middle East, including Jordan, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Iraq which were arbitrarily carved out of the ashes of the Ottoman Empire? Should we refute the legality of practically the whole of Europe whose borders were shaped, destroyed and redrawn through centuries of war? Why is Israel, this tiny strip of land no bigger than Wales, singled out for criticism with so much intensity and loathing? The honest answer is, there is a deeper hostility driving the anti-Zionist agenda. It is not about concern for Palestinian human rights. It is not a reaction to the perceived injustice of Israeli Government policies. It is about hating Jews.
Look up Zionism or Israel on social media and you will be shocked by the level of hatred directed against Jews. The internet is full of vicious myths of Jewish power and influence, which are part and parcel of conspiracy theories blaming Jews for all the world’s ills. It is not long before you find yourself in Holocaust denial territory; in blood libel territory. These anti-Semitic tropes are not new. The difference is that today, they are inextricably linked to Israel, a country portrayed as a global villain that is propped up by its malevolent Jewish accomplices across the world. It would be laughable if it wasn’t so dangerous. The advent of communication technology means that these preposterous ideas have a wide reach. They are finding enthusiastic audiences in both the far left and the far right of the political spectrum.
Whether it is coming from the left or right, make no mistake: The word Zionist is code for Jew. Jews have long suspected it. Anti-Semites have always known it. Recent events have exposed it. Antisemitism is a problem that affects us all, and so anti-Zionism should worry us too. Not long ago our Jewish friends came to our help when we needed it most. In their hour of need, it’s our turn to step up.