Journalist Nazanin Zagari-Ratcliffe remains imprisoned in Iran. I have Iranian friends. I would not dream of calling them up and demanding that they condemn the Iranian regime. Of course, I suspect that given their reason for coming to the UK was to seek asylum, I suspect that they wouldn’t hesitate to condemn Iran in far fiercer language than I could muster. However, that’s not the point. Their right to remain here, to enjoy a free and happy life and my friendship towards them is in no way conditional on them regularly demonstrating correct political attitudes towards the Iranian government.
Sadly, not everyone gets it. Every so often we hear about some poor woman on the bus being harassed by yobs for wearing a Hijab and being accused of being part of ISIS. When that happens, we recognise it as racism and hope that if we were ever on the bus when such an attack happened that we would have the courage to stand up to the yobs.
Yet, this past weekend, members of the Jewish community in Britain have been subjected to such yobbish and intimidatory behaviour. This has included both online harassment and physical intimidation as yobs descended on Finchley and drove through the town flying Palestinian flags and yelling threatening and antisemitic abuse. The use of the Palestinian flag was cover for the antisemitism. This enabled one tweeter to play down this abhorrent behaviour as follows.
You will see from the thread that the tweeter, who I hope would recognise the racism and thuggery described in my first two paragraphs seems to think it is okay to single out Jews and demand that they must justify their existence and presence here by condemning Israel.
Now Jews living in Finchley or Birmingham should be free if they so choose to condemn, disagree with, question the behaviour of the Israeli government, just as you and I are free to. They should also be free to on reflection, and as they investigate evidence to conclude that some criticism of Israel might be unfair, just as you and I are. And just as you and I are free to choose not to comment at all on the affairs of another country, so too are British Jews.
You see, British Jews are not the Israeli state. They are people who happen to have an ethnic heritage. Some of them will be devout in their practice of Judaism, others will be secular, some have converted to Christianity. Some of them will support Israel, others will not. Some may desire to emigrate to Israel one day and some might have their eyes on a place in the sun down in Australia when they are able to save up the money.
Their right to remain in the UK as British citizens, to live their lives peacefully, going to work, school and making friends with others is in no way dependent on or conditional to their political pronouncements or lack of them on Israel. To insist that they do is to engage in the same type of racist behaviour I described at the start.