In a few weeks’ time, during the festival of Passover, Jews worldwide will recite the words, “Next year in Jerusalem” – expressing an ancient ambition that every Jew might one day return (note my Dr Evil finger quotes around the following word…) “home”.
For the eight million Jews who currently don’t reside in Israel, this age-old refrain is more hollow than heartfelt.
The vast majority of Britain’s 270,000 Jews would never dream of trading their country of birth for a foreign land – least of all one with an unfamiliar language and a culture hardened by its neighbours’ obsession with its destruction.
Yet if Benjamin Netanyahu had his way, “This year in Jerusalem” would be the profound pledge of Jews from Sydney to Stamford Hill.
Following last month’s anti-Semitic murders in a Paris kosher supermarket and again after Saturday’s fatal attack outside a Copenhagen synagogue, Israel’s Prime Minister has called for the “massive immigration” of Europe’s Jews. He pleaded: “We say to our Jewish brothers and sisters, Israel is your home.” He’s even earmarked £30m to issue emergency Israeli passports for we poor refugees.
Netanyahu is guilty of grave errors of presumption. He is wrong to advocate flight in response to terror; wrong again if he thinks all Jews define themselves in relation to his nation; and thrice wrong to disregard the enormous pride integrated, assimilated, successful Jewish diasporas have in their country of birth.
I’m a third generation British Jew. All my sentimentalities are British. I love queues and driving on the left with both hands on the wheel. I like to apologise when someone steps on my foot. I like saying, “I’m fine” when I’m not. Heck, I almost got a tattoo of David Gower’s Test match batting average to mark the great man’s retirement.
My desire to move to Israel starts and stops at booking a week’s half-board in Tel Aviv rather than Marbella. I am British first, second and third.
That doesn’t mean I’m not proud of Israel’s achievements. When it’s not fighting to survive in a dangerous neighbourhood, it tries to make the world a better and more exciting place.
It is a centre of world technology and innovation. It recycles 80 percent of its wastewater. Its scientists have invented microscopic camera pills that squirt medicine directly at an illness. How cool is that! In the past fortnight alone it’s developed a breath test to detect Parkinson’s disease and muscle patches for damaged hearts.
That I will always feel welcome in Israel is a comforting thought. I will never cut that chord. In the words of the great British-Jewish author Howard Jacobson: “In Israel, Jews see a version of themselves.” Indeed, a 2010 survey found more than nine in 10 British Jews have visited the country.
Yes, there are perils. The likes of George Galloway endanger my community by obsessively defaming Israel and declaring Bradford an “Israel free zone”. Attitudes like that nurture a malevolent twilight zone where anti-Semitism thrives.
But far from being a beleaguered community under siege, British Jews have never been louder and prouder. North London’s dynamic JW3 community centre and the annual Trafalgar Square Chanukah celebration and Limmud festival of culture are but three examples of modern Anglo-Jewish life at its most thrilling – one that’s far removed from the streets of Tel Aviv.
Whatever Netanyahu might think, British Jews define themselves through their immense contribution and accomplishments, not anti-Semitism.
Yes, Jews have always felt the need to have their bags packed and be ready to leave at a moment's notice. But Britain offered them, as it has offered so many other faiths and cultures, a place to truly call home – without a finger quote in sight.
The vast majority would never dream of pushing the exit button.Reuse content