OPINION: A timely reminder of why we have a duty to care

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OPINION: A timely reminder of why we have a duty to care

This weekend offers a chance to remember and honour those who perished in conflict and to stand against antisemitism and hate, writes AJEX National Chairman, Dan Fox

AJEX National Chairman Dan Fox
AJEX National Chairman Dan Fox

Jewish service in His Majesty’s Armed Forces is an inspiring story which reflects Britain at its best. It begins at a time of religious restriction on public service, with the resettled Jews of the 17th century nonetheless finding a way to serve. They were there to help supply the Royal Navy, to defend the Crown against rebellion, to lead in the first modern wars, and to battle Napoleon at Trafalgar and Waterloo.

When world war broke out, the community’s official bodies encouraged recruitment. A 1914 poster urged Jews to be “all they can to Britain” because “Britain has been all she can be to Jews”.

Some 55,000 Jews from Britain and the Empire served in the first world war, including the Jewish Legion of five Royal Fusilier battalions.

In 1928, various veterans’ groups merged into AJEX. And in 1934, King George VI, in recognition of the Jewish contribution to the Great War, granted permission for our annual parade to the Cenotaph on the last Sunday of November – a tradition which continues to this day for 3000 marchers and spectators.

In the inter-war years, it was Jewish veterans that led the fight against rising antisemitism. Culminating at the Battle of Cable Street in 1936, when the counter demonstration to Mosley and the BUF was headed by a be-medalled, standard-bearing AJEX detachment.

In World War Two, 70,000 British Jews served. 20,000 Jewish men and women alone, 6% of the community, were in the RAF. Even Jews who had originally been interned as threats to national security ended up fighting, nicknamed The King’s Own Loyal Enemy Aliens. 26000 Jews from Mandate Palestine also joined-up and were eventually joined by a further 5000 who formed the Jewish Brigade.

Wherever our nation was fighting the Axis powers – on beaches, in fields, and through streets; in the air, sea and jungles – Jews were there too. And having defeated fascism on the continent and in the Pacific, they returned home to finish off the residue of the Blackshirts in London, Manchester and elsewhere, with AJEX and the 43 Group leading the fight.

National Service and the hot conflicts of the Cold War saw thousands of Jews continuing to serve, with dozens making the ultimate sacrifice. In the 21st century, the current armed forces Jewish community has seen members serve in the Balkans, Iraq, Afghanistan, and on operations all over the world.

Jewish soldiers, sailors and aviators, and their families, embody a defiance of those most spiteful of antisemitic tropes: accusations of dual loyalty and of somehow standing apart.

Today, AJEX, the Jewish Military Association continues to look after those in need, to support those still in uniform, to promote this incredible British story of service and courage, to remember and honour those who have left us, and to stand against antisemitism and hate.

Support AJEX ‘Our Duty is to Care’ Campaign this weekend 26th – 27th February  www.charityextra.com/ajex

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