OPINION: We must look outwards to protect our identity

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OPINION: We must look outwards to protect our identity

'We can't afford to stop reaching out to others, in part, because we know how painful it is when people don't reach out to us', writes incoming HIAS+JCORE Chair, Judith Flacks-Leigh

Stop Rwanda, outside the Royal Courts of Justice. Pic: HIAS+JCORE
Stop Rwanda, outside the Royal Courts of Justice. Pic: HIAS+JCORE

Things are hard for our community right now. Ever since October 7th, we have struggled in our relationships with other communities and with our perceived place in society. Antisemitism has risen, anti Israel sentiments at demonstrations are rife, and it is only natural to feel like all we can and should do is turn inwards. In fact, we are taking lead from the famous Jewish wisdom: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me?”.

HIAS+JCORE’s mission is to work to mobilize the British Jewish community in order to support and advocate for refugees and asylum seekers, as well as to fight racism across society. One may wonder if there is a place for such work at the moment, when our own community is feeling far from safe and comfortable itself. How do we have time or capacity to fight for others when our energy is taken up by fighting for ourselves?

The answer, to me, is simple. We have to fight harder for others, alongside ourselves, now more than ever, because the Jewish wisdom continues: “If I am only for myself, who am I?”.

I believe that we must be decisive now and continue to call out true injustice and inequality where we see it. We can’t afford to stop reaching out to others, in part, because we know how painful it is when people don’t reach out to us. We know that feeling of injustice, so how can stay silent and let others feel the same way?

The mainstream Jewish community has always worked to be open, visible and to outstretch arms of solidarity when we see it is needed, even when it is not always reciprocated. If we stop this, we risk our identity being defined by tragedy and victimhood, and that is not a basis for building the vibrant future we have worked so hard for.

Judith Flacks-Leigh

HIAS+JCORE offers great hope for our future. I am excited to be taking up the role of Chair alongside our executive director, David Mason, and the team, who are ably building up the organisation and its reputation. We are already seeing the impact of their work on the lives of asylum seekers and we will continue to develop as a respected voice in the wider world of refugee advocacy.

To do this, we must also look at upcoming opportunities. There will be a general election this year or next. Within the community, the Board of Deputies will soon elect a new president. These are significant opportunities to tell those who seek to represent us at the highest levels, what matters most to our community.

It is our opportunity to tell them that our values continue to be inclusive, to prioritise equality and to support people who find themselves displaced. It is also an opportunity to hold those who made or broke promises, accountable for their choices and their words.

In the last few weeks, we have seen MPs using racist rhetoric and in the last few months, the language used during debates around the Rwanda Bill have done nothing to quell unfounded fears of refugees. As our Executive Director wrote in this paper last week, we must be careful as a community not to link our opinions and reactions to political extremes.

Closer to home, we must also look at opportunities to make our own community more inclusive. For example, the Board of Deputies commission into racial inclusivity conducted in 2020 looks like it has done nothing but gather dust, and what a shame it would be for that work to be ignored.

HIAS+JCORE will continue to look for, create and seize opportunities to overcome divisions in UK communities to create a more equal multi-ethnic society. We cannot afford to stop this work, because if we do, we lose our identity to those who have no idea who we really are and what we truly value. We must continue to look outwards and build a fairer society for all, because “If not now, when?”.

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