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Response to 'Reflections on Trafalgar Square'
Last uploaded : Monday 13th May 2002 at 13:48
Contributed by : Avi Harari


News Sadly, your experience of this section of British Jews does not surprise me.

In my view, a number of different historical forces have coalesced in British Jews to create a group of people, many of whom are in agony.

When the last wave of Jewish immigrants to Britain arrived, they did not find the land of the free, as in the United States; only the land of the semi-free. In fact, in the last century Jewish migrants generally regarded Britain as a poor second choice to the US, or at least a stepping stone on the way to it.

The relevant factors are:

1) Britain lacks the egalitarian social ethic of the US: on the contrary, whatever the public rhetoric, it is still a society, whose upper tiers are built on social and racial exclusion (viz. the class system). Thus, there has been an unbroken 'tradition' of anti-Semitism - often subtly expressed but nonetheless real - in Britain to this day, especially in the intelligentsia and ruling elites.

2) Unlike in the US, the numbers of Jews never reached a critical mass enabling them to wield political power en bloc.

3) The British national identity is much inherently stronger than that of the US. Further, the British are one of the world's most intellectually brilliant peoples. However, when combined with other, rather negative features of British culture, such as complacency and racism - not to mention arrogance -, this trait led the British to be deeply suspicious of the Jews,
who can match them every step of the way in terms of intellectual achievement.

Further, no-one in government in Britain ever took the decision to educate the public at large about the Jews, resulting in a situation where virtually all of the British population (and this goes for Ireland too, where I live) are abysmally ignorant of Jewish culture, history and achievements.

Thus, it can be quite properly said that, although Jews in Britain are not persecuted, they are barely tolerated.

The practical result has been that Jews in Britain have often had to adopt the same survival strategies as were necessary in other more, overtly hostile countries. One of these is to hide their Jewish identity. British Jews in particular were often impressed by some of the more positive features of British culture (which are very impressive; e.g. deep civilisation, courtesy, fairness, learning) and tried not just to emulate these but also to become British. In the process, they hoped to gain social acceptance and to be free of both the social stigma and personal trauma of belonging to a persecuted refugee people.

Thus, a lot of British Jews have effectively turned their back on Jewish culture, sending their children to be educated in British public schools (i.e. private schools), as if they were members of the British middle class. This process was exacerbated by the disorganisation and divisions within the Jewish community in Britain, which was and is still relatively small.

Further, many Jews escaping severe Nazi or Russian persecution (and I count my own parents among them) never received badly needed social and
pyschological support and treatment.

All in all, this has created a situation where many British Jews are conflicted inwardly about their identity. Are they British or are they
Jewish? Are they both or are they neither? One sad product of this confusion is the self-hating Jew, who identifies primarily as British rather than Jewish. The greater the hostility this person expresses towards the Jewish people, the more he or she feels British and probably hopes to be accepted.

Unless they can be helped to heal their pyschological conflicts, such individuals must be regarded as lost to the Jewish people through

Best regards,

Avi Harari


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