Tuesday, April 1, 2014

British Jews Go the Way of American Jews

First, the good news. The most recent census revealed that, for the first time in decades, the decline in Britain’s Jewish population has been arrested. In 2011, 263,346 chose to identify themselves as Jewish by religion in England and Wales, compared to 259,927 in 2001.

Beneath the headline figure, however, all it not as it appears. The Institute for Jewish Policy Research, having recently published the preliminary findings of its substantial and substantive National Jewish Community Survey, demonstrated that British Jewry is undergoing a generational shift in Jewish identity, culture, and affiliation, one that has the potential to transform Jewish life in the United Kingdom – and not necessarily for the better.

As one generation passes and another supersedes it, British Jewry is experiencing a weakening of mainstream Judaism, greater Haredisation at one end of the spectrum of Jewish identity, and a withering away of Jewishness through intermarriage and disaffiliation on the other.

Membership of Orthodox Jewish synagogues has fallen through the floor, having declined by over 30 percent in the past twenty years. In the JPR survey, while those who described themselves as “traditional” represented a quarter of the sample, the number who identified themselves as having had a traditional upbringing totaled 40 percent, with a clear drift in adulthood towards progressive, secular, and cultural forms of Judaism.

Ultra-Orthodox synagogues, meanwhile, have seen their membership double since 1990. Today, 13 percent of British Jews can be considered Haredi. Of those who chose to identify themselves as Haredi in the JPR survey, 63 percent are under 40, compared to 31 percent of traditional Jews and secular or cultural Jews. Previous studies have shown that nearly one third of Jewish children under 5 years of age in Britain is born of Haredi parents.

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Friday, February 7, 2014

Britain’s Struggle To Engage Young Jews

“I believe that we are now at one of those critical, pivotal moments in our history,” Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner, Senior Rabbi to the Movement for Reform Judaism, recently informed the Board of Deputies of British Jews. “It’s sneaking up on us. What is happening is an upheaval that threatens our cohesive fabric.”

American and British Jewry share the same fate. On one end of the religious spectrum, through intermarriage and assimilation there is a drifting away from Jewish identity. In the United Kingdom, the preliminary findings of the Institute for Jewish Policy Research’s National Jewish Community Survey showed that under half of intermarried Jews attend a Passover seder, one third fast on Yom Kippur, and only 18% attend a Friday night dinner most weeks.

In the center of the religious spectrum, British Jews under 40 are more likely to value belief in God or marrying within the Jewish faith than their parents, yet some don’t have the knowledge or language of Judaism to live a fully Jewish life. And, at the other extreme, the burgeoning, young Haredi community is displacing an aging, secular or traditional population. Today in the UK, nearly one third of all Jewish children under the age of five are born to Haredi parents.

“By definition, the Haredi community lives in seclusion, and so the mainstream community might not be aware of changes going on in that community,” Janner-Klausner told The Forward. “I am concerned about and connected to the Jewish people as a whole. As a community, we have to be able to talk to each other and understand each other.”

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Monday, January 20, 2014

British Jews Angry Over Unpunished ‘Quenelle’

It has been almost three weeks since West Bromwich Albion striker Nicolas Anelka celebrated scoring two goals against West Ham United by doing the quenelle, the reverse Nazi salute popularized in France by comedian Dieudonné M’bala M’bala.

Yet Anelka remains unpunished. He continues to play, in fact. Albion’s then-head coach Keith Downing refrained from condemning him immediately after the soccer match, and in the days that followed the club itself held back as well. Albion instead released a clumsystatement, which acknowledged that the quenelle “has caused offense in some quarters.” Albion “asked Nicolas not to perform the gesture again.”

But for the Jewish community — including the owner of the club’s shirt sponsor Zoopla — in the United Kingdom, it is the lack of response from the Football Association (FA) and anti-racism campaign organizations like Kick It Out that has disappointed and caused upset.

The Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Community Security Trust (CST) have been in regular contact with the FA since December 28, when the CST made the original complaint against Anelka and furnished the FA with information about the quenelle, its use and meaning in France as an anti-Semitic gesture, and its association with Dieudonné. Tal Ofer, London-based member of the European Jewish Parliament, also made an individual complaint to the FA about the incident.

Marketing Week claims that the realtor website has contacted West Brom with an ultimatum following Anelka’s quenelle. Zoopla, whose founder and CEO is Jewish businessman Alex Chesterman, insist that if Anelka plays in Monday’s Premier League home game against Everton it will want its name removed from the team’s shirts.

For the authorities, though, the investigation into Anelka’s celebration itself has dragged on into its third week, with the FA refraining from informing the public or community organizations about its progress. In response to a widely-circulated story that the FA has brought in an unnamed academic to assist in determining the meaning of the quenelle, the FA did state that, “We are working with an appointed expert regarding the salient issues related to the quenelle gesture.” However, there will be no further updates on the investigation until January 20 at the earliest.

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Thursday, January 9, 2014

Britain should apologise to Israel for the Balfour Declaration

In 2014, commemoration of the First World War on the one-hundredth anniversary of its commencement will be inescapable. So, too, will the debate over the merits of the miserable and bloody conflict that took the lives of over 16 million soldiers and civilians, crippled an entire generation of Europeans, and begat the infamous Treaty of Versailles.

In the United Kingdom, this conversation has already begun and has spiralled off so as to encompass another product of the Great War: the Balfour Declaration. At the end of last year, the Palestine Return Centre launched in Parliament a campaign called, “Britain, It’s Time To Apologize,” requesting an international voice to call on Her Majesty’s Government “to apologize to the Palestinian people, for either wilfully or carelessly failing to protect their human and political rights, while under British protection.”

Leaving aside the Palestinians for a moment, in the first instance any campaign against the Balfour Declaration must be treated with great suspicion. After all, that declaration was more than a government memorandum. It was the first declaration of its kind from a world power in support of the Zionist idea of Jewish autonomy and self-rule in Palestine.

More importantly, it was a legal instrument, incorporated into the Mandate for Palestine ratified by the League of Nations in July 1922, in which it was stated that Britain as overseer would be responsible for fostering political, administrative, and economic conditions that would secure “the establishment in Palestine of a National Home for the Jewish people.”

The Mandate would go on to recognize “the historical connection of the Jewish people with Palestine” and “the grounds for reconstituting their National Home” in that country. It would also provide room for the creation of what would become the Jewish Agency, the de facto governing body of the Yishuv.

To request that the British government apologize for Balfour, then, is to ask it to repudiate the underpinnings in international law of the State of Israel itself. It is a flagrant act of delegitimization — an attempt to negate the Jewish right to self-determination and deny the basis of Israel’s existence.

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Monday, October 14, 2013

Ralph Miliband Smear Hints at Darker Motive

Given that The Daily Mail has never liked anyone whose politics are to the left of General Franco, it is hardly surprising that they would not care for Ralph Miliband or indeed his son, Ed.

After all, Ralph Miliband was one of the foremost English socialist thinkers and writers of the 20th century. Miliband favoured the upending of the existing class structure and the dismantling of the existing establishment including the Church, the Lords, and the business elite. He also favoured nationalisation of key industries with a view to “improving the efficiency of a capitalist economy,” much to the chagrin to Mail, who wrote that he “chose to ignore the lamentable performance of nationalisation, which proved to be anything but efficient.”

The Man Who Hated Britain” – the Mail’s recent feature on Miliband – labors (forgive the pun) boringly and boorishly on his politics and its implications for what his son might do if he were Prime Minister.

“But how passionately he would have approved today of his son’s sinister warning about some of the policies he plans to follow if he ever becomes Prime Minister,” Geoffrey Levy writes. “Such as giving councils draconian new powers to seize into public ownership land held by developers who fail to build on it.” The horror.

And yet were the piece merely a castigation of the professor’s unabashed socialist politics, then that would be fine, insofar as it falls within the Mail’s usual remit.

But in “The man who hated Britain,” there are evidently other motivations at work. Miliband is described as “the immigrant boy whose first act in Britain was to discard his name Adolphe because of its associations with Hitler, and become Ralph, and who helped his father earn a living rescuing furniture from bombed houses in the Blitz.” For rescuing, read pilfering.

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Thursday, August 29, 2013

UK Intel: “Highly likely” Syrian government responsible for chemical attack

It is the assessment of the United Kingdom Joint Intelligence Committee that chemical weapons were utilised in an area of Damascus on August 21, and that is is “highly likely” the Syrian government was responsible. The attack in East Ghouta resulted in the deaths of 350 people. “The regime has used CW on a smaller scale on at least 14 occasions in the past. There is some intelligence to suggest regime culpability in this attack.”

Among their findings published today, the JIC also stated that:

  • Extensive video footage attributed to the attack in eastern Damascus is consistent with the use of a nerve agent, such as sarin, and is not consistent with the use of blister or riot control agents.
  • Permission to authorise CW has probably been delegated by President Assad to senior regime commanders but any deliberate change in the scale and nature of use would require his authorisation.
  • It is not possible for the opposition to have carried out a CW attack on this scale. Moreover, there is no credible evidence that any opposition group has used CW. A number continue to seek a CW capability, but none currently has the capability to conduct a CW attack on this scale.

Read the full JIO memo here.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Nigel Farage courts Jewish voters, talks Israel, Iran, and shechita

It was ever-so-slightly distressing to see an august community institution like London’s Jewish Chronicle granting a platform to Nigel Farage, leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), on Wednesday evening. As someone who dedicates a good deal of his days to fostering an unwelcome climate for the most vulnerable in society — tarting up narrow-mindedness with libertarian lipstick — Farage’s politics aren’t exactly aligned with consensus Jewish values.

In particular, Farage tramples on the mitzvah to never oppress the stranger. For him, the stranger is the immigrant.

UKIP was founded as an anti-EU concern but of all its policies the one with which attracts voters, opinion polling suggests, is its pledge to put an end “to the age of mass, uncontrolled immigration”. This will be achieved by “a five year freeze on immigration for permanent settlement” and a complete and total end to unregulated internal European migration by leaving the European Union.

When it was put to Farage that he was in fact addressing a room full of the descendants of immigrants and refugees from one time or another, he seemed oddly unfazed. “I’m a refugee, just like you,” he said, pointing out his ancestors were Huguenots who fled to the United Kingdom from France. “They were going to burn us at the stake before we sought refuge here, so there is some commonality there.” Later, Farage conducted a crude show-of-hands which appeared to prove that, in fact, a good number of the 350 in attendance supported the notion that the present level of immigration was unsustainable.

Farage was perhaps less clear or honest about the issues surroundings shechita and brit mila. He asserted that his party held a liberal, nuanced position on these practices, that “whatever our dislikes, we are fundamentally a strong libertarian party that says you may pursue what you wish to pursue, providing that it doesn’t hurt or affect me”. Which would be fine, if polling conducted by YouGov and the Jewish Chronicle didn’t conclude that 71 percent of UKIP supporters favour an outright ban on the religious slaughter of animals for kosher meat and 51 percent a proscription on male circumcision.

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Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Britain’s U-Turn on Teaching Hebrew

The British Department for Education (DfE) today announced a U-turn on its previously-proposed policy that would have limited the scope of Jewish primary schools in the United Kingdom to teach Hebrew as a modern foreign language.

As The Forward previously reported, under controversial plans released last December as part of an overall reform of the national curriculum, the DfE mandated that beginning in September 2014, pupils aged 7 to 11 would only be allowed to learn one of either French, German, Spanish, Italian, Mandarin, Latin, or ancient Greek as their second language in state-run schools.

The DfE stated that the aim of this policy was to prevent “any potential proliferation of very low take-up languages, and would focus schools’ attention on a sample of important languages.” A spokesperson for the Department told The Forward at the time that, “We want to give young people the skills they need to compete in a global jobs market.”

Such a policy, however, would have been destructive for the proliferation of Hebrew in government-aided Jewish day schools. The teaching of either classical or modern Hebrew would have been pushed to the margins in order to allow for the obligatory teaching of one of the seven permitted languages. The teaching of foreign languages in British schools is already compromised by the amount of time allocated to other subjects, including literary, numeracy, science, and the humanities.

Under the altered proposals which follow a public consultation, the DfE now states that in primary education, “teaching may be of any modern or ancient foreign language and should focus on enabling pupils to make substantial progress in one language.” This same policy also applies to the teaching of modern foreign languages up until the age of 14.

The DfE adds that, “If an ancient language is chosen the focus will be to provide a linguistic foundation for reading comprehension and an appreciation of classical civilisation.”

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Wednesday, June 26, 2013

NEWS: Pamela Geller Banned From Entering the UK

Pamela Geller, the American blogger and activist infamous for her staunch criticism and denigration of Islam, has been pre-emptively banned from entering the United Kingdom by the Home Secretary, Theresa May.

In a two-page letter which Geller uploaded onto her blog, Atlas Shrugs, the Home Office informed Geller that has been “excluded from the UK” on the basis that her “presence here would not be conducive to the public good.” Her previous history indicated to the Home Secretary that Geller may attempt to “foster hatred which might lead to inter-community violence in the UK.”

Below the letter in her blogpost, Geller reacted:

In a striking blow against freedom, the British government has banned us from entering the country. Muhammad al-Arifi, who has advocated Jew-hatred, wife-beating, and jihad violence, entered the U.K. recently with no difficulty. In not allowing us into the country solely because of our true and accurate statements about Islam, the British government is behaving like a de facto Islamic state. The nation that gave the world the Magna Carta is dead.

Geller and her co-founder of Stop Islamisation of America (SIOA), Robert Spencer – who has also been banned from entering the UK – had been due to attend and speak at a rally in Woolwich organised by the English Defence League, the far-right movement which purports to share with Geller a mutual concern over the Islamisation of Europe, on Saturday, June 29. “Today is a sad day for freedom of speech,” EDL leader Tommy Robinson stated after Geller announced her ban.

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Jonathan Sacks and the Twin Danger Facing Jews

The outgoing Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom, Lord Sacks, warned attendees at his farewell dinner Monday evening that assimilation and ultra-Orthodoxy – “those who embrace the world and reject Judaism, and those who embrace Judaism and reject the world” – represent a “global danger” to Jews and Judaism.

Assimilation and ultra-Orthodoxy, Sacks said, are phenomena that presently “dominate the Jewish world”. He described the trend of “one young Jew in two deciding not to have a Jewish marriage, create a Jewish home and build the Jewish future” as a ‘tragedy’, while stating that the haredim “segregates itself from the world and from its fellow Jews.”

“This is very dangerous, because if there is anti-Semitism or anti-Zionism in the future, who is going to fight it? The Jews who abandon Judaism? Or the Jews who abandon the world?”

As the spiritual leader of the UK’s Orthodox community, Sacks has reason to be concerned. According to a 2010 study produced by the Institute for Jewish Policy Research, 73 percent of Jewish households are affiliated with a synagogue, yet the percentage of affiliated households across the denominations has fallen by 17 percent over the past twenty years. Orthodox households still represent over fifty percent of affiliated households, but their number has contracted by one third. At the same time, the percentage of Jewish households affiliated to an ultra-Orthodox synagogue has more than doubled from 4.5% in 1990 to 10.9% in 2010.

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