“Tzedek, tzedek tirdof – Justice, justice you shall pursue.” This is how the Torah exhorts a three-word command that encapsulates the basis of Western civilization.
These simple words were radical. At a time when power was wielded through the sword and by wealth, the idea that justice should be the ultimate goal of every person and the worthiest form of power was bold and new. It goes to the essence of what civilization is: without justice, we cannot thrive. We cannot consider ourselves civilized.
In Europe today, we are faced with a question: how far will Europe tolerate intolerance? In other words, will Europe pursue justice? Will it enforce justice?
Events answer that question. Law enforcement against extremists cannot wax and wane. If you let hate thrive for decades and decades, then you eventually pass a point of no return. The terrorist attacks we are witnessing around Europe were born in a vacuum. They were born in a vacuum of law enforcement, where extremism was tolerated with minimal disruption by acquiescent liberal states, fearful of causing upset.
We talk so much about immigration into Europe that sometimes we forget to look at who is leaving, and the Jews are leaving. Thankfully, there is no global database tracking the migration of Jews, but Israel does count the number of people availing themselves of the Law of Return, which guarantees Jews unconditional safe haven. Since 2000, 6 percent of the Jewish population of Europe has emigrated to Israel. In 2014, the rate of Jewish emigration doubled to its highest ever level and remained high. Leaving your home is not a snap decision, and for it to have sped up so much shows that it has gathered momentum. For many of those who emigrate, it will have been a decision that was 10 years in the making. And in addition to that 6 percent, there are more Jews still who are leaving mainland Europe and going to the United Kingdom or the United States.
The famous lawyer Alan Dershowitz posed an illuminating question in the wake of the January 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris. Had the only terrorist murders in Paris been the four Jews doing their weekly shopping at the kosher supermarket, and not at the office of the Charlie Hebdo magazine, would there have been a million people demonstrating in the street? Well, we know from the shooting at the Jewish Museum in Brussels and the horrific shooting of three Jewish children and their teacher at a Jewish school in Toulouse that million-strong demonstrations don’t happen when it is “just Jews.” After further terrorist attacks in Paris in November 2015, people started saying “everyone is a target,” but they were already a target. When Jews start leaving, it is the surest possible sign that society itself is collapsing.
But Jews are not just leaving because of the major terrorist attacks that make the headlines. They are leaving because of stories like that of Samuel and Diana Blog, both Holocaust survivors in their late eighties. One night in 2015, two men noticed the Jewish mezuzah on their front door in Amsterdam. They pretended to be police officers and barged in. As they shouted “dirty Jews,” they beat Samuel until he was blind. They broke Samuel and Diana’s bones until they were wheelchair-bound for life.
There is only one way to look at this. You may have read or heard of Joseph Heller’s book, Catch-22. As the war rages, the protagonist, an airman called Yossarian, exclaims, “They’re trying to kill me,” to which his comrade answers, “They’re trying to kill everyone!” Yossarian replies, “What difference does that make?”
They are trying to kill me; they are trying to kill the people I love; they are trying to kill you.
So, what can we in the United Kingdom learn from the rest of Europe? We could comfort ourselves. We could use Jews as a gauge of our society’s health, and our country is one of the best places in the world to be a Jew. We are offering a haven to the afflicted. Some London synagogues are now conducting their services in French for new members from France.
Beware of such conclusions.
Six years ago, two British Islamists, Sajid and Shasta Khan, were caught by a total fluke. They had been building bombs in their front room and planned to attack the Jewish community. One day, they had an argument, and the neighbors overheard and called the police. That is how close we came to a bomb attack on British Jews.
Each week, synagogue-goers pass airport-style security that has been the norm here for decades. But in 2014, when anti-Semitic attacks here broke all records during the Gaza war, people tried to explain it away as some sort of rage against Israel. But then how do we explain from where that anti-Semitism came? Why, in the following year, 2015, did the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism’s National Anti-Semitic Crime Audit discover that anti-Semitic crime had jumped 26 percent to a new record high? Why, in the absence of the convenient excuse of a war in Gaza, did violent attacks on Jews surge again in each subsequent year?
The answer is that at the same time as anti-Semitic crime was breaking new records, the prosecution of anti-Semitic crime dropped. The Crown Prosecution Service has proudly announced that it is prosecuting more hate crime than ever before, around 15,000 cases per year. However, of those cases, each year we know of only about two dozen prosecutions for anti-Semitic hate crimes.
Britain has one of the strongest legislative frameworks in Europe for fighting hate crime and extremism, but we are not using it effectively. For all the talk about cracking down on hate crime, we have seen no evidence of any meaningful action against resurgent far-Right groups, the anti-Semitic extreme-Left has taken over the Labour Party, and it has taken over 20 years for us to finally silence the Islamist preacher Anjem Choudary who was convicted for ties to ISIS and sentenced to five years in prison.
There is the political will to enforce the law against anti-Semites and extremists, but the breakdown occurs in the police forces and the Crown Prosecution Service. Anti-Semitism is rarely a hot topic for long, and in competition with domestic violence or benefits fraud, anti-Semitism is often left to fester, which is exactly how it thrives. The consequence is that we are treating the cancer of growing extremism only when it is already strong and at its most violent. We are not ripping it out by its roots.
The Campaign Against Anti-Semitism is working to change that. We have earned the support of Theresa May and her team, precisely because we hold the authorities’ feet to the fire, even taking them to court when necessary. We have forced the Crown Prosecution Service, against its will, to prosecute and convict anti-Semitic criminals. The time has passed for quiet pleading. This is the fight for our country, and we must not lose.
The words are as true now as they ever were. Tzedek, tzedek tirdof.