The Jewish community stands in solidarity with refugees
Wednesday 3rd February 2016
Memories of the Holocaust mean that even right-wing Jewish people are sympathetic to the plight of Syrian refugees, says SHLOMO ANKAR
JEWISH people never seem to agree on much when it comes to politics, and above all on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We tend to argue with each other more than any other community, but we are united in feeling that we must do more to help those escaping the conflict in Syria.
Since the crisis emerged, the Jewish community has taken a very pro-refugee view. And this has not only come from those people on the left but has also come from those who are non-political and even some who are Conservatives.
The two main Jewish newspapers in Britain — the Jewish Chronicle and the Jewish News, which are traditionally quite reactionary, have broken with their usual right-wing agenda and have been publishing regular articles that are sympathetic to refugees.
Most Jewish institutions, with only a few exceptions, have been opposed to the anti-migrant hostility of the Daily Mail and other right-wing newspapers.
The chief rabbi, who rarely gets involved in any matter which may appear controversial, recently made a symbolic visit to a refugee camp in Greece to meet refugees.
He and a team of leading rabbis went to show solidarity with the people there and the chief rabbi was so moved that he later compared the camp to Auschwitz.
The Movement of Reform Judaism has been active in building a campaign to help refugees.
It has raised funds for charity but has also engaged in political lobbying of local councils to take in more Syrian refugees.
Jewish celebrities such as David Baddiel and David Schneider have been very vocal on Twitter, on TV and on the radio in calling for better treatment of refugees.
They, like many others, feel that Jews like themselves are only alive due to their parents being given asylum, hence we should now provide that to Syrians, Afghans and others in need.
Campaigners and political activists too have been speaking out. Dan Judelson, who is a long-time campaigner from north London, organised a trip to Calais, filling a van full of clothing, blankets and other useful items to offer to refugees there. And there are many more examples of similar stories from the community in recent months.
Junior doctor Jonathon Schwartz, who is a regular at his local synagogue, said he was worried about how vulnerable the refugees from Syria are.
He encourages Jewish people to help, “not only [because of] our own history, but also the Torah clearly states that we have an obligation to help vulnerable people.”
Film-maker Yoni Higgsmith compared the experience of Jews who escaped nazi Germany to Syrian refugees.
He added that “for refugees to leave all their belongings behind to face such peril in the hope of a livelihood, well, these people deserve our admiration and our help.”
Members of the Union of Jewish Students (UJS) have also been active. UJS members tend to only campaign on pro-Israel issues, with many of them being Conservative voters.
Yet UJS members do not share David Cameron’s lack of compassion for refugees and have been active both in raising funds for charity and also in some political activity to help refugees.
This contradicts the right-wing bloggers’ stereotype that the Jewish community is opposed to allowing refugees into the country.
Some have suggested that the Jewish community is only concerned about crime and terrorism, that Jews are more in line with Ukip policy in opposing migration, especially from Muslim countries.
But this could not be further from the truth. For many of us it is heartbreaking that in 2016 there are still people living in refugee camps who are struggling to survive.
This feeling is not confined to Jews on the left, such as myself. It is shared by others who are non-political or even right-wing.
After decades, if not centuries, of learning about Jewish suffering, we all see similarities with the plight of Syrians and hence want to do what we can to help.
Of course it would be wrong to exaggerate. Some members of the Jewish community share David Cameron’s views on migrants and some even support Ukip’s position. But they are in the minority. Most share Jeremy Corbyn’s view that we must do far more to help those fleeing war and persecution in their home countries.
The refugee crisis has warmed much of the community to Corbyn after seeing pictures of him in Calais standing in solidarity with the people in those camps, particularly after Cameron’s criticism of Corbyn for wanting to help “a bunch of migrants.”
Jews in 2016 still feel the pain of World War II, even if that occured decades ago. So most Jews stand in solidarity with their fellow humans who had to flee war in Syria and now languish as refugees.