‘Forge The Future’ plan launched to safeguard UK Jewish community post 7/10

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‘Forge The Future’ plan launched to safeguard UK Jewish community post 7/10

Ambitious scheme spearheaded by Jewish Leadership Council aims to fortify British Jewish life in the aftermath of Hamas terror attack.

Jenni Frazer is a freelance journalist

British Jews at a demonstration in support for Israel.
British Jews at a demonstration in support for Israel.

Unprecedented plans to strengthen the UK Jewish community in the wake of 7 October have been launched the Jewish Leadership Council.

Forge the Future is a densely-worded document which emerged from a unique strategy conference convened by the JLC last month, in which 180 leaders from many different parts of the community discussed how British Jews should proceed in the wake of the Hamas attack on Israel and its devastating impact on Jewish communities worldwide.

After 7 October, the JLC says, “our context and needs changed overnight”. Forge the Future is an attempt to grapple with some of the challenges facing the community now, to streamline responses and deal better with external threats.

Keith Black, the JLC’s chair, says his organisation is “not a controlling body. We don’t want to control. We do want to co-ordinate the work, and to make sure we remove duplication. And we want to ensure that for anything strategic, for anything that will have a long-term impact on the community, that we get all the right wise heads in the room, discussing how to handle it.”

Keith Black with the Chief Rabbi.
Pic: Mark Thomas

The February brainstorm generated “5,000 Post-It notes” and a sense that it was “abundantly clear that there is an appetite for change and innovation in how we work as a community”.

The notes and the breakout recommendations have now been distilled into nine separate aims, arising from four main objectives.

These four are: empowering and supporting the next generations; winning support and allies; ensuring fair media coverage; enforcing our legal rights.

The JLC, says Keith Black, is now “in deep conversation with significant funders” as those involved in Forge the Future are aware that some of the proposals cannot happen without proper financial support. However, Black says he is “confident the funders will listen” if the aims are presented seriously and fully costed.

He added: “We have explicitly removed from this document any of the long-term strategic challenges that the community was facing before 7 October. So we’ve not dealt with the Charedi community or the decline in funders or the needs for social care. These are issues we feel the community is thinking about and working with and there’s an established peace time structure to deal with many of those issues.

An antisemitism protest march in November. Credit: Guy Bell/Alamy Live News

“We are a community under grave threat: a deeply anxious community, worried for its future and not set up to deal with the level of animus and hatred that we are feeling at the moment. It’s simply not there. We’ve not dealt previously with the depth of the anti-Israel narrative prevalent in too much of civic society. That needs to be challenged.”

One of the big challenges, Black said, is “allies”. He believes that a silent majority of the British population “will have no truck with antisemitism. But we need to go out and find our friends, in the interfaith movement, in trade unions, in arts and culture, in the NHS… wherever it may be. We hear about the enemies. But we don’t hear enough from those who are prepared to stand up for Jews in this country, so we need to find a network of ambassadors.

“We shouldn’t fight this battle alone. The anxiety that our community feels today is a national disgrace. That has to be brought to everybody’s attention – it’s not acceptable.” Though the community’s physical protection was well looked after by the CST, Black said, “our psychological protection is vulnerable”.

Swastikas painted on a school sign in Newport, south Wales.
Photo credit: Crown Prosecution Service/PA Wire

Among the nine target recommendations is the establishment of a Community Legal Action Group to co-ordinate all legal activity. Black is aware of differences of opinion in how that operates — much of the running on this has been made, up to now — by the Campaign Against Antisemitism and UK Lawyers for Israel. But Black believes that centrist opinion will enable the “broad church” of the Jewish community to come to agreement on how to fight legal issues “without descending into deep division”.

Also in the frame is a need to “deliver a responsive, joined up community media and communications function”, so there is a coherent message being presented. Acknowledging that the Board of Deputies, on the eve of its elections, was “in purdah” at the moment, Black admitted that the JLC was rethinking its relationship with the Board. Nothing will be resolved until Marie van der Zyl’s successor is elected, but he said that the Board had played a full part in the February deliberations.

Forge the Future is a war plan, which will include the creation of a communal hub so that there is “a regularly updated cross-communal noticeboard of events and opportunities”, which rather suggests that the Deputies’ long-standing communal calendar has fallen into disuse. And there are recommendations to improve contact with politicians, and to establish a Digital Steering Group to help people fighting anti-Israel rhetoric on social media.

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