The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has wished the UK’s Jewish community “an increase in your sense of security and peace.” He made his comments in a conversation with Britain’s Chief Rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis, during a visit to his home in advance of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. The Community Security Trust, which protects Jewish communities in the UK, reported a record annual total of 1,414 antisemitic incidents in the UK last year. The figure for the first six months of 2018 – 727 incidents – showed an eight per cent fall on the same period last year; but despite the fall, the first half of 2018 is the second-highest total ever recorded by the CST.
Britain’s opposition Labour party has repeatedly been accused of failing to take action against incidents of antisemitism committed by its members and activists. Media reports of the issue often result in a tirade of abuse against Jewish politicians, media and campaigners on social media.
“You have gone through, in the last few months, a very demanding, stressful time; and in some ways in the last few years with the increase in anti-Jewish attacks across the country on synagogues, on cemeteries, on individuals; and the unspeakable trolling on social media,” Archbishop Justin told Chief Rabbi Mirvis.
“Coming into this New Year we are where we were a year ago, but actually we’re in a worse position,” the Chief Rabbi said in response. “Because a year ago we had our aspirations, our hopes, our prayers; and we have seen that matters haven’t moved forward. If anything, they have deteriorated.
“And ever since the holocaust we never thought for one moment that we would again need to defend our Jewishness, our identity, our existence. It is, to us, unbelievable what is actually happening now.
“We are absolutely determined to ensure that there will be a stop to this scourge of antisemitism across all institutions in this country. There should be a zero tolerance. We want to have a great wonderful and happy future in the country that we love. We are Jewish and British. We are British and Jewish.”
The Chief Rabbi criticised the “irresponsible world leaders” who were allowing it to take place; and some even encouraging it. “Where you have poisonous comment laced with hatred, you can be sure that hatred of the Jew will be coming very quickly.”
Archbishop Justin said that “community” in Britain was a collection of larger or smaller groups, most of whom were minorities. “Anything that permits attacks on one minority group is a threat to the entire structure of the nation,” he said. “Once you attack one group, why not attack every other group?”
During the 90-minute meeting, Archbishop Justin reflected on his predecessor Archbishop William Temple establishing the Council of Christians and Jews in 1942, with Chief Rabbi Joseph H Hertz, as a means of combating the evils of antisemitism.
Archbishop Justin told the Chief Rabbi he was pleased that the Parliamentary Labour Party had adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism without any caveats. This is something that had been opposed by the wider Labour party. He offered his own unequivocal support for the definition and suggested that the Church ought to formally adopt it. “I am distressed that it should be necessary, but I think it is necessary”, he said.
“Listening to you, I find it hugely distressing and depressing that in the 21st century that any community, especially the Jewish community given the history of Europe of the last two or three generations – should have a deep sense of insecurity. I think that is appalling; and what that tells me is that the leaders of this nation should be very clear in giving security to the Jewish community in this country.”
The Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, begins on Sunday 9 September and ends on the evening of Tuesday 11 September. During the meeting, Archbishop Justin wished the Chief Rabbi Shana Tova – the traditional Hebrew greeting for a good and sweet year.