Ethan Schwartz (28/04/2012)
A 2010 report from the Institute for Jewish Policy Research (JPR) found that 82% of British Jews saw Israel as "central" or "important" to their Jewish identities, 95% had visited Israel and 72% described themselves as Zionists. It's frankly bizarre that a community which expresses such strong emotional and political attachment to Israel doesn't show the same attachment to the Israelis in its midst.
You may not know that there are, by some estimates, close to 80,000 Israelis in the UK – something like the population of Gateshead. The article noted that many Israelis in the UK feel excluded and let down by the British Jewish community, that many don’t feel represented politically, culturally or religiously. I think it’s important to ask how we got to this point, and what can be done to fix it.
Some of you reading this today will agree with those quoted in the article that, “Often British Jews feel embarrassed by Israel and the result can be that they avoid close relations with Israelis here.” However, I don’t think that’s the case. That same JPR report found that 71% of British Jews are not made uncomfortable as Jewish people in Britain by Israel’s actions. Additionally, many British Jews feel duty-bound to defend Israel in British society, and feel just as let down by perceptions of bias against Israel in the British media as Israelis do.
Why, then, are Israelis not included more in British Jewish life? I think that there are a number of reasons, and the blame does not rest solely on any one group’s shoulders.
Most British Zionist activity is carried out by organisations that pre-date the State of Israel. Think of the main Zionist youth movements, for instance – the Federation of Zionist Youth, Bnei Akiva, Habonim Dror etc. – all of them are geared towards either Aliyah or supporting Israel from the diaspora. As a message, this makes sense for young British Jews, but not for young Israelis in Britain – hence the increasing popularity of the Israeli Scouts in London.
Israelis also don’t make their presence felt. If most British Jewish communal life takes place in Synagogues, community centres or classrooms, it’s hardly surprising that many secular Israelis don’t take part. Most Israelis did not grow up needing a Synagogue or a school to maintain their Jewish identity, so some reject the basic institutions of British Jewry. Israelis often stick to their own, so most British Jews don’t interact with them in a Jewish context on a regular basis.
It's at least as much an issue of awareness as it is of conscious rejection. If Israelis in Britain don’t make their voices heard, they will continue to be underrepresented. British Jews cannot be expected to change their ways of thinking and being Jewish to bring in Israelis if they don’t know that many Israelis don’t feel included at present. There’s a massive cultural divide that needs to be breached by both sides if we are to find some common ground.
Part of the problem is the fact that many, if not most, Israelis in Britain intend to return to Israel. Why, you may ask, would you want to take part in an impermanent, galut form of British Judaism, if you’ll soon be back in Eretz Yisrael? While I, along with most British Jews, may find offensive the idea that Judaism in the diaspora is inherently inferior, that’s really beside the point. For those Israelis who have planted roots here, and who want to engage in Jewish life on their own terms, the question of engagement cannot be overlooked.
The complaint of lack of representation is not unique to Israelis. Young Jews, non-Orthodox Jews, LGBT Jews, Mizrachi Jews et al. are often ignored by the white, old, male elders of the plethora of groups claiming to represent the British Jewish Community. Although Israelis may feel alone, the truth is they are not. Both Israelis and British Jews desperately need to find other ways of engaging with each other than the traditional institutions and structures of Anglo-Jewry.
That’s why I think it’s important that Israelis organise themselves. If the institutions of British Jewry don’t represent you, form new institutions! It’s clear that the British Jewish community needs a change of attitude towards Britain’s Israelis, but that can only be achieved by finding new ways of engaging on both sides.
It’s finding those other ways of connecting that’s difficult. The article in the Jewish Chronicle is a good start, but more can and should be done. A constructive dialogue between Israelis in the UK and British Jewry is needed. After all, if we can’t understand each other, there’s no chance of making a change. I’d like to think Alondon – in Hebrew and English – could be part of that.
Read this article in Hebrew
The writer is the English Web Editor of Alondon
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1. moshe Author in 15/06/2012:
I suggest that the Israelis go home, it is better there.
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- You make us so proud. May Allah bless your efforts for building bridges for peace.
Khurshid Drabu (2012-09-17 18:34:20) Commented on A Time For Reflection
- I suggest that the Israelis go home, it is better there.
moshe (2012-06-15 16:15:14) Commented on British Jews And Israelis In Britain
- If not for your writing this topic could be very covnoulted and oblique.
Betsey (2011-12-07 17:45:52) Commented on Israeli Press Review