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Artillery Row

Why I joined the October Declaration

We should stand with British Jews in a time of peril

In the first two days of being online, the “October Declaration” against  antisemitism in the UK — and in favour of the right of Israel to defend itself from terror — has garnered over 30,000 signatures. As was intended, the majority are from outside the Jewish community.

Yet Jewish allyship is nonetheless a difficult and delicate task. It raises the question of what is the “Jewish community” — and why anyone should necessarily feel they belong to it simply because of an accident of  birth? Even many self-consciously Jewish families have instead chosen the path of assimilation, which has been a touchstone of Jewish security. From this perspective, Jewish “allyship” can instead be  unwelcome or even threatening: hence the quip that a philosemite is merely an antisemite who read the memo backwards.

An inflection point came in 2018, when Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the  Labour Party caused the Board of Deputies and the Community Security Trust to take the unprecedented step of organising a demonstration in front of the Houses of Parliament. It was an immensely sad moment, given  that Britain has never been “just another” European country when it comes to welcoming full participation from its Jewish citizens — with Jewish MPs and one Jewish Prime Minister sitting decades before such emancipation was achieved in Europe. The demonstration also took us back down the wearying path of Jewish life having to define itself  reactively — rather than proactively on its own terms.

And yet who, back in 2018, could have predicted the state of affairs five years later? Secular Jews whose race had been nothing but a footnote to  their lives now have it resonating in their minds from the moment of  waking. The awful warning cry of religious Jews down the ages — that assimilation is nothing but a mirage — seems finally to be coming true. Like all racisms, antisemitism is again revealing itself to be blind to individual choices.

So it is that Jewish allyship is again being desperately sought — and welcomed. This was the context which caused me to become involved in the  launch of this week’s October Declaration. Things which shouldn’t even need stating — that children should be allowed to attend school without fear – were suddenly being swept away on a current of double standards. Scenes of barbaric horror such as have barely been enacted in the world in decades simply passed through the news agenda. The present-day suffering of the grieving and the captive synthesised away by political debate. The casual rationalisations of police forces who have become little more than party-organisers for terror supporters. And above it  all, the helpless feeling that Jewish choices count for nothing — and that even the most liberal Jew is as much a lightning rod for anti-Israel sentiment as the most ardent Zionist.

The October Declaration should not need to exist in any modern society — least of all the UK. And indeed the greatest mark of its success is that  it should fade away into obsolescence, dropping away like a kind of historical dewclaw. We are asking people to step forwards so they can again step back; allowing the natural, inclusive instincts of this country and guardrails of our law enforcement to restore the balance which so suddenly seems to have been lost. And then Jew and gentile alike can get back to the proper business of appreciating the world’s unique civilizational debt to Judaism — not merely fighting against  the darkness again trying to overcome it.

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