Opinion: Let’s play ‘Where should British Jews flee?’

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Opinion: Let’s play ‘Where should British Jews flee?’

Should we stay or should we go? And if we go, where? Eddie Hammerman attempts a throw of the geographical dice for Jewish News

Pro Palestinian supporters outside the Sydney Opera House on Monday, October 9 2023. Photo: AAP Image/Dean Lewins
Pro Palestinian supporters outside the Sydney Opera House on Monday, October 9 2023. Photo: AAP Image/Dean Lewins

The question: Where will we go? Not since Corbyn have so many Jews asked this question, discussed in endlessly pinging WhatsApp groups, irritating Facebook threads, and antisemitism surveys that fill numerous depressing pages of the Evening Standard. So, let’s explore our options. Let’s play a game which though unlikely to be commissioned by ITV, could make it onto Dave TV with endless reruns: Where shall Jews flee? Cue the music.

The obvious place is the USA, with just as many Jews there as Israel. Could I get a job in America? Maybe. But while America may be the land of the free, it’s also the new home of ‘context’ — a seemingly new threat to Jews with its toxic university campuses, flag and poster rippers, and armed guards at shuls.

They may have all the random hechshers in the world, but it’s not the sanctuary it once was. As Franklin Foer notes in his Atlantic article, “The golden age of American Jews is ending. Antisemitism on the right and the left threatens to bring to a close an unprecedented period of safety and prosperity for Jewish Americans — and demolish the liberal order they helped establish.” What a gosh darn disappointment.

Next up, let’s get as far away as possible, to the land Down Under. You might be able to ‘see the pub from there’ and I’ll never forget Scott and Charlene’s chuppah, but on the flip side, you can also witness marauding mobs in Melbourne and anti-Jewish chanting in Sydney. Antisemitic incidents have spiked in Australia since October 7.

As Liberal MP Julian Leeser, who is Jewish, said: “We’re seeing things that I haven’t seen before in my lifetime – Jewish children afraid to wear their uniforms to school, people afraid to wear their Magen David [Star of David], afraid to wear their kippah.” Ring any bells, British Jews? The grass isn’t greener, except perhaps on Ramsay Street.

I could probably make a case for a Polish passport due to my grandparents’ heritage, but it’s going to be a hard sell, especially considering my grandfather’s time spent surviving Auschwitz. A similar irony would be Germany (although a very friendly government, even defending Israel at the ICJ), but Brexit and our hallowed blue passport have scuppered the ease of free movement in Europe, making it far more difficult to up sticks.

Pic: Eddie Hammerman

Putting silly practical work visa issues aside, according to a pre Oct 7 survey, after Denmark, Hungary is considered the safest place among the twelve European countries. Italy, Austria, and Spain are also ranked at the top of the chart while Germany, Belgium, and surprise, surprise, France are said to be the least safe by the local Jewry. Following the disgraceful reaction to the Amsterdam Holocaust museum this week including throwing eggs and letting off fireworks, the Dutch do not make the cut. Italy could be promising as I do have a penchant for pasta (well, any carbs for that matter), the pace of life, and the one euro coffee culture. Sadly, their football is just too defensive for my liking, so I will have to rule it out.

If you are finding all this tedious and pointless, it’s because it is. For the record, I am deeply British and have no interest nor plans in going anywhere. It doesn’t mean I’m not uncomfortable, but this is my home. I was offended as a Brit — not even as a Jew — by the marches on Armistice weekend as it’s one of two British chaggim, and I’m positive that my fellow Brits feel angry at British politics being destabilised by a far-off land with the government’s counter-extremism commissioner warning that town centres have become ‘no-go zones for Jews every weekend.’

Pro-Palestinian protesters hold flags during a rally outside the opening of the National Holocaust Museum in Amsterdam, Netherlands, on March 10, 2024. (Mouneb Taim /Anadolu via Getty Images) JTA

As a Jew, I also know that for the past 2000 years, in the face of anti-semitism, we typically run and hide, but as we know, they eventually catch us, beat us, kill us, and burn us. As the somewhat ironic saying goes, “they tried to kill us, we won, let’s eat”, but more often than not there was not much winning. So when asked by pollsters whether we are worried by the mind-boggling rise in antisemitism (a 589% increase according to CST), in an almost involuntary reaction baked into our DNA, we default. But it doesn’t have to be this way. The Fiddler on the Roof diaspora narrative is changing with a catalyst of almost existential proportions.

Israeli podcaster, intellectual and author, Micah Goodman notes in his new book ‘The 8th Day’, that Israelis post October 7 have been transformed through a near-death experience. We too, as British Jews, have had a glimpse into a world where we could, for the first time in our generation, “imagine a reality where Israel does not exist. It reminded us something we have all forgotten… that Jewish sovereignty in the state of Israel is fragile. And like any individual where you have got your life back, you are forever transformed.”

Hizb-ut-Tahrir rally in London in October.

For me, this was not on the attack day itself but on October 11th when it seemed that Israel was under massive drone bombardment from the northern neighbours. Thankfully, it turned out to be a false alarm, but for 90 hellish minutes, I thought Israel was done. Not only did I realise I had taken Israel’s very existence for granted, but also just how important Israel is to me as a diaspora Jew. It enables me to have the ultimate fallback plan and, rather paradoxically, creates the opportunity for me to stand tall, knowing that Israel has my back just as I have hers. And while Israelis have changed forever, British Jews are going through our own metamorphosis. We are doing something very ‘unBritish,’ going out into the streets and standing up for our values, happy to openly sing Hatikvah followed by God Save the King.

Screengrab, Institute of Jewish Policy Research, Twitter

Goodman writes about ‘the day after’ for Israeli society, but what does this look like for us here? If you ever wondered what you would have done at Cable Street, well, ponder no longer. This is our time. A time to tell our children where we were and what we did when our values were under attack. A time to recount the tales of how we stood up for Israel, our religion and ourselves. A time where we hid ourselves less and became something more. For the first time in two millennia, Jews can and will defend ourselves. And if the time comes, I know I’ll have Israel, and she’ll welcome me with open arms. Until then, I’m embracing my newfound bolder, prouder, and louder British Jewish identity, and it feels good.

I’m not going anywhere. Put that in your survey.

  • Eddie Hammerman is a PR expert and co-founder of the Elstree and Borehamwood weekly vigils for the Israeli citizens who remain hostage in Gaza.
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