Do you consider yourself to be English or British? Personally I’ve always considered myself British. Although I’ve lived my life entirely in the south east of England I’ve never thought of our Scottish neighbours as foreigners. And as a libertarian, I’m proud to call thinkers such as Smith and Hume my fellow countrymen.
As a Brit, I like a curry, but you really can’t beat a fried breakfast. I grew up watching Neighbours (yes, Australian) and Doctor Who on the BBC. I stand up at the beginning of rugby matches when the national anthem is played. I say “Terribly sorry, excuse me” when what I really mean is “Get out the way!”
One thing I’ve never really thought of myself as being is an immigrant although technically I am – albeit second generation. My mother was born in Lvov to Russian Jewish parents, and in 1968 her family left Soviet Russia for Israel, before coming to England in the early 1970s. Another label I’ve never meaningfully attached to myself is ‘Jewish’, although, again technically, I am.
Yet I’ve never stepped foot inside a synagogue. I think I once took part in a Passover meal when I was very young, but other than that my mother made no real effort to educate my sister or myself on our Jewish roots. Our only tangible link to our maternal heritage is through soup: chicken noodle when we’re feeling ill; borscht when we want something filling. I also have a weakness for sour cream and dumplings.
So I was as surprised as anyone when I found myself uttering six loaded words recently. And by ‘recently’ I don’t mean once, dropped into a passing conversation. I mean at least a dozen times, in a dozen such conversations over the past few weeks. Those words were “Maybe we should move to Israel”.
Not, primarily, because I worry about the rise in anti-Semitic attacks affecting me personally. As a church-going Christian I wear a cross on a necklace, and am more often assumed to be Spanish, if anything, so I doubt I would be targeted on the street. And anyway, in our little Sussex village aggression is more likely to be of the passive variety than in the shape of a brick through your window.
And not because I have any great yearning to live in the country of Israel, charming though it is. I’ve visited a few times; it’s nice. The people are friendly to the point of lively gregariousness, and the food is exotic, but good. But the desert landscape, to my mind, compares poorly to the verdancy of my beloved South Downs despite the Israelis’ pioneering use of modern irrigation techniques; also, I don’t speak the language.
No, the reason that I’m seriously considering a move to Israel in the next few years is because I’m developing a strong suspicion that Israel is going to be one of the safest countries on the planet to live in over the next few decades. An odd statement considering the thousands of rockets that have rained down across the country since early July, but consider this – last Wednesday the Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu met with Congressman Darrell Issa (R-CA), and in a filmed discussion had this to say:
“Radical Islamic terrorism now threatens the entire world. It threatens Israel, it threatens the United States, it threatens the moderate Arab regimes, threatens Europe – everybody. I think we face the same Islamist terror network and we have to fight it together. Hamas is ISIS, ISIS is Hamas. You saw the gruesome beheading of James Foley. We see the gruesome murder and execution of three teenagers which Hamas has just admitted that they did. These are branches of the same poisonous tree. We have to make a common front against the common front of radical Islamic terrorism. The free world, the democracies have to stand together against this terrorism. That’s the only way we’ll roll them back. Ultimately that’s the only way we’ll defeat them.”
To my mind, the video released by ISIS showing the beheading of Foley was a clear statement of war, not with the Christians, Yazidis or Kurds in Iraq and Syria, but with America and Europe. Foley was American; his murderer was British. This is not a lamentable but forgettable conflict in a far off land – this involves our citizens and our countries directly. We are at war with ISIS. Or, at least, ISIS is at war with us.
So compare and contrast Netanyahu’s words with Obama’s statement on the brutal execution of Foley, delivered on the same day as the Israeli PM’s comments. Obama declared that “ISIL speaks for no religion”, and continued “They may claim out of expediency that they are at war with the United States or the West, but the fact is they terrorize their neighbours and offer them nothing but an endless slavery to their empty vision, and the collapse of any definition of civilized behaviour.
So what does Obama plan to do? In his words: “We will be vigilant and we will be relentless.”
“The people of Iraq, who with our support are taking the fight to ISIL, must continue coming together to expel these terrorists from their communities. The people of Syria, whose story Jim Foley told, do not deserve to live under the shadow of a tyrant or terrorists. They have our support in their pursuit of a future rooted in dignity.
“From governments and peoples across the Middle East there has to be a common effort to extract this cancer, so that it does not spread. There has to be a clear rejection of these kind of nihilistic ideologies. One thing we can all agree on is that a group like ISIL has no place in the 21st century.”
In other words, bar maybe sending a few drones over and perhaps handing the Iraqi government more weapons, Obama plans to do nothing.
Netanyahu knows that his country is at war with radical Islam and is doing what he must to protect his citizens. Israel already has one Iron Dome missile defence system and is planning four others, including a giant laser designed to zap smaller missiles out of the sky. Obama, the nominal leader of the Free World, still thinks the war against Islamic extremism is only a problem for far off places. Which country do you think will best protect its citizens from attack?
But as I said at the beginning, I’m British. So what’s the situation here in the UK?
Well, David Cameron was succinct during his press appearance following Foley’s death. He said “We will stick to the very clear foreign policy and the very clear strategy that we have, which is to work with the new Iraqi government, to make sure that the Kurds get the arms they need to fight off these brutal extremist militants, to work with our allies, and as I’ve said to use everything that we have … I’ve been very clear that our country is not going to get involved with another Iraq war.”
His Home Secretary Theresa May was roundly mocked this week for saying that those who promoted terror in the UK would be given anti-social behaviour orders, which are basically a sort of formal ticking off by the courts. That’ll teach ’em!
Meanwhile, the government and its institutions continue to display double standards when dealing with Muslims and Jews (or, incidentally, Christians). In Bushey, north of London, a Jewish man was arrested for assault after he chased off some socialist pro-Palestinians who were menacing a Jewish deli and got into a fracas with some of the 15 strong group. At an anti-Israel protest, Breitbart London witnessed a lone Jewish counter protester who was escorted off the scene by a group of policemen, whilst those wearing t-shirts with Hitler on them were ignored.
My grandmother once recounted a sad story to me. It’s one I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. When she was young and my mother still just a toddler, they were returning home from shopping across a crowded square, my mother hopping across the cobbles as they went. Suddenly, a few people approached and started shouting anti-Semitic abuse at her. More joined in, then more, until she was surrounded by people pointing at her, shouting names and insults. She held my mother and cried.
Although she herself told me this, I can’t really imagine it. It sounds so foreign, so distant. So utterly alien from my life experiences. Incidents like that happen to other people, in other countries, in other times – except of course they have been happening in London and Manchester this summer to people like you and me.
I blithely dismiss the personal threat of anti-Semitism, and yet… and yet. There is always that nagging doubt.
My sister and I were discussing the current climate. She identifies far more strongly as a Jew than I do and works in a very left wing organisation so I asked her whether she was feeling uncomfortable at work. “Oh no”, she said, then added, “Well, only a bit. It’s more the comments on social media – I don’t think they’d ever say or do anything to me directly”.
“Yes, I suppose that’s what the German Jews thought in the 1930s” I replied darkly. We looked at each other aghast as the full implication of what I had said sunk in. “Maybe we should move to Israel”, I muttered, and we changed the subject.