I am sending a further note to our community in haste before Yom Tov. It concerns a matter on which we would all wish that there was no need to write.
It is clear that we are living in increasingly difficult times. Both Jews and Israel are sometimes spoken about in utterly unacceptable terms. Anti-Semitic comment has become more prevalent. Sometimes it is intentional; at other times the speaker seems blandly unaware that the views expressed are hurtful and hateful.
I certainly do not consider that all criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic; this is far from the case. Yet it seems to me evident that certain kinds of rhetoric of contempt and hatred for Israel have also become a means of attacking and denigrating Jews and Judaism in general.
Naz Shah has made what sounds like a genuine and heartfelt apology in the House of Commons; the matter remains under investigation. What I find most disturbing in her case is that she may well have been quoting without consideration narratives and comments very widespread on social media and public discourse. Very many people do likewise, spreading all kinds of forms of racism and prejudice.
What has driven me to write are Ken Livingstone’s comments today about Hitler and Zionism. They are outrageous, inflammatory, inaccurate and in the circumstances entirely gratuitous and helpful to no one. I appreciate John Mann’s frankness and outrage in combatting them.
Not only we as Jews, but every sector of society needs to expose and counter anti-Semitism and every form of racism and bigotry. Those who hate one entire group of people quickly move on to hating another; we are all in the struggle against this evil together.
But that is not enough. The challenge is not to increase enmity in the world but to do our best to turn enemies into friends or at least partners in debate. Sadly there are situations and people where and with whom this is simply not possible. But wherever we can we need to find ways of creating relationships and entering into dialogue, even when it is difficult, with those who out of ignorance or received bigotry hold views we find unacceptable. Our real and enduring strength lies in our integrity and the quality of the relationships we develop with other faiths and groups in society and across the world.
These are profound and demanding challenges. We need to employ all the strengths, talents and human resources of our community and society in engaging with them.