For the first time in the 350 years Jews are beginning to question whether they are valued as citizens and can securely think of Britain as their natural home
The right to protest is treasured in all democracies. It is a right which should be fiercely protected from the sometimes malign forces of the powerful and the elite. It is a right to be nurtured and guarded by the passionate embrace of ordinary citizens, who are conscious of its affirming power.
But the protests I have seen in recent weeks over the conflict in Gaza between Israel and Hamas have filled me with dread. Banners attacking the legitimacy of Israel, chants of accusation of massacre and genocide and flagrant abuse of Jews and Israelis, are not the stuff of acceptable protest but the actions of bigots determined to demonise a democracy and its people. They have scant regard for the existential dilemmas Israelis face, nor the true nature of Hamas.
It is not acceptable to constantly single out Israel for unrestrained and uncritical condemnation without any acknowledgement of the disproportionate role that Israel has played amongst the Community of Nations in building a more prosperous and fairer world. Nor is it acceptable to march constantly against Israel while being silent on the horrors playing out in the Middle East and North Africa every day by purveyors of terror and evil.
It is not all of the protesters, nor even a majority. But the malignant minority are not upbraided for their behaviour nor are they criticised or in any way held to account.
It is not acceptable that the political discourse in this country allows a tragic and complex conflict to be reduced to the banality of domestic political infighting and a sordid grab for votes. Lord Prescott chose to lecture the Jewish people about not learning the lessons of the Holocaust? The Jews well understand the lessons of the Holocaust: that their faith in society to protect their rights and lives was catastrophically misplaced in wartime Europe, and that it is a mistake that will not be made again.
David Ward MP appeared to legitimise terror when he made his most recent remarks on what he would do if he lived in Gaza. George Galloway MP announced gleefully that his constituency is Israeli-free. Baroness Warsi insinuated recently that the policy of this Government is determined by financial contributions by the pro-Israel lobby to the Conservative Party. This classic weapon of anti-Semitic innuendo has been rehabilitated as acceptable political discourse.
It is not acceptable that the Tricycle Theatre deemed a cultural event unacceptable on the basis that it receives moderate funding from the embassy of Israel, an ally of the United Kingdom and a legitimate funder of Jewish culture.
It is not acceptable that retailers in Manchester, London and Birmingham are harassed because they sell goods made in Israel. It has always been open to individuals to exercise their rights and determine what they will or will not purchase. Yet that is now not the case. In their zeal the purveyors of this thuggery and intimidation target kosher food. The result is that the target is not really Israel but Jews.
It is not acceptable that incidents of anti-Semitism in the United Kingdom have increased fivefold since the start of the conflict between Israel and Hamas, according to the Community Security Trust (CST). From abuse on the streets and gratuitous threats of violence, to defilement of graves and places of prayer, it is a shameful exhibition of intolerance and hatred. For too long, Jews have had to have special measures to protect their places of worship, learning, and celebration. It is tragic commentary on our society that we see no end in sight of this state of affairs.
It is not acceptable that many in the media seek sensation rather than truth. It is right to highlight the tragic plight of the weak and the disposed in Gaza and it is reasonable to consider whether Israel has deployed its firepower responsibly, provided the standards by which these things are judged are the same for all armies.
It is of course valid to cajole Israel for any tardiness in pursuing a two-state peace process, if of course one is equally critical of similar tardiness on the part of the Palestinians. It is wrong to demonise Israel through constant emotive and loaded reports which ignore proper reporting of the despicable acts of terror of Hamas perpetrated not only on Israelis but on their own people in Gaza. This demonisation is a body blow to British Jews whose Jewish identity is informed by their relationship with Israel.
It is not acceptable that for the first time in the 350 years since Oliver Cromwell overturned the edict of expulsion issued in 1290 by Edward I, Jews at their family dinner tables, when they gather to pray and learn, are beginning to question whether they are valued as citizens and can securely think of Britain as their natural home.
Now is the time for Britain’s leaders to speak with one clear and unambiguous voice that what is happening is simply not acceptable. It should not be left to this citizen, this immigrant and this Jew to be the one to say it.
Mick Davis is the chairman of the Jewish Leadership Council