As a passport carrying British citizen living in New York, there are a number of pros and cons. Americans never seem to tire of jokes about blokes, the Queen and tea and have not quite appreciated how insensitive it is to invite an Englishman to a July 4th party.
One of the pros is that people tend to take you more seriously. A recent study concluded that British professors are 25% more listened to than their American counterparts, followed closely by Australians, South Africans and New Zealanders.
But on a more serious note growing up visibly Jewish in England is a very different experience. It is not uncommon to have anti-Semitic slurs shouted at one in the street from a passing car. At the tender age of twelve I had my Kippa grabbed and thrown from my head by anti-Semitic bullies and I remember similar incidents occurring to friends and family. Although the vast majority of incidents go unreported, Britain is still listed as the country with the third highest toll of anti- Semitic incidents in the world, following Russia and France.
As a Jew my feelings toward Britain have always been mixed. My grandmother and her siblings came to Britain on the Kindertransport in 1939 with 10,000 other Jewish children. This British hospitality very likely saved their lives and certainly afforded them freedom and opportunity in beginning life anew. On the other hand their brother was slain in the infamous Hadassah Convoy Massacre of April 13th 1948 that was directly facilitated by the British.
In the big scheme of things though, the Kindertransport was a pitiful moral gesture in the face of the numerous injustices of relatively recent history perpetrated against the Jewish people by the British. In the book, penned by Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, entitled A Durable Peace, the entire second chapter is dedicated to this topic aptly named The Betrayal, he writes:
“Britain turned its back on the promises undertaken in the Balfour Declaration. What had been regarded as obvious moral truths and obligations before the British had formally received the Mandate were now quickly discarded as policies unsuited to the moment. Britain tore off Trans-Jordan from the Jewish National Home in 1922: With one stroke of the pen, it lopped off nearly 80 percent of the land promised to the Jewish people”
And he continues….
“By the eve of World War II, after successive White Papers, the British had choked off Jewish immigration almost entirely and had limited Jewish land purchase to a tiny fraction of the country, prompting President Franklin Roosevelt to declare to Secretary of State Cordell Hull: “I was as Versailles, and I know that the British made no secret of the fact they promised Palestine to the Jews. Why are they now reneging on their promise?””
Today the British attitude towards Israel is at best lukewarm and at times fairly hostile, specifically on the street where anti-Israel sentiment is widespread and calls for boycotts of anything Israeli abound.
Last week the Goldstone Report, which stated that Israel had committed possible war crimes during the Gaza war of last year, was endorsed by the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. Despite Israeli lobbying efforts, the resolution passed 25-6, with 11 countries abstaining and five declining to vote. Among the decliners was Britain, although they had originally planned to abstain. Either way this was an appalling show of British moral weakness and in the words of Dante; “The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in a time of moral crisis, maintain their neutrality”
But then there was the solitary voice of Colonel Richard Kemp former commander of British forces in Afghanistan who addressed the UN Human Rights council saying; “During Operation Cast Lead, the Israeli Defense Forces did more to safeguard the rights of civilians in a combat zone than any other army in the history of warfare,” testified Colonel Kemp. “Israel did so while facing an enemy that deliberately positioned its military capability behind the human shield of the civilian population.”
And of course there is Churchill who declared “The Jews are in Palestine by right, not by sufferance.”
And in 1921 he wrote:
“It is manifestly right that the scattered Jews should have a national centre, and a national home to be re-united, and where else but in Palestine, with which for three thousand years they have been intimately and profoundly associated? We think it will be good for the world, good for the Jews, good for the British Empire, but also good for the Arabs who dwell in Palestine...they shall share in the benefits and progress of Zionism.”
These two men albeit on very different levels, have shown what Britons may be capable of. It is high time that the British took a position among the nations as a leader of courage and moral direction and left behind the era of wavering cowardice and moral neutrality. As a son of the nation for which the sun once stood still perhaps I would be prouder to associate with the people on whose empire the sun never sets.
The Author is the director of the Algemeiner and the GJCF and can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org