By Alex Brummer
The Board of Deputies and Boys Town in London were for many years close neighbours at our former headquarters in Bloomsbury Square. The work of Boys Town in integrating young men from all corners of the world and raising them to be full participants in every aspect of Jewish and Israeli life is genuinely ‘a light unto the nations.’
As an economic writer it is hard not to be impressed by what Israel has achieved as a nation.
At a time when much of the world struggles with issues of integration, multiculturalism and assimilation for immigrant populations Israel, still a young state, demonstrates how it can be done and how the ethnic divides within our own Jewish community can be reconciled. Israel’s prosperity is undisputed, income per head, is higher than many of the ClubMed southern European countries. Its technological leadership only second to Silicon Valley.
In an era when Israel often receives a bad deal in the media the enormous contribution which Israeli products make to our daily lives is sometimes forgotten.
When people talk about boycotting Israel – they would seem to forget how useful the UK finds Israel’s technology. Israel is the leader in combatting cyber-crime and terror, it created the monitoring technologies which allow our police forces to keep track of prisoners out on remand and – something we all appreciate – the encrypted ‘cards’ in your Sky Box at home, which allow you to watch your favourite football team or Danish series or monitor events in the Middle East.
That is why the UK has become Israel’s second largest trading partner with two way trade rising exponentially and reaching some £3 billion a year.
But neither is it a perfect society. Successive reports by the gurus from the International Monetary Fund in Washington and OECD in Paris have praised Israel’s economic performance. But there is a lacuna. Among the advanced nations of the world Israel has the second widest gap between the wealthier sections of society and the least well off.
At the upper end this can partly be explained by the fact that so much of the financial system is in the hands of a few wealthy families. At the lower end it is a sad fact that many Charedi and Bedouin families have been left behind by prosperity. The importance of institutions, like Boys Town, which takes young people from lower socio-economic brackets and gives them the opportunity to shine cannot be overstated.
So much of what Israel does is excellent. Yet for much of British and European society Israel is looked at through one single prism – the Palestinian conflict.
Everyone Jewish winced when, in the wake of the Paris tragedies, the daughter of a French Holocaust survivor told a BBC correspondent that ‘The situation is going back to the days of the 1930’s in Europe’ – a perfectly reasonable remark given the current degree of economic desolation and the frequency of violence against Jews especially, as well as other minorities.
The response by the BBC reporter was stunning: ‘ Many critics of Israel’s policies would suggest that the Palestinians suffer hugely at Jewish hands too.’
Aside from the crassness of the remarks, it exposed a truth about the media narrative on the Middle East. The constant images of alleged Palestinian suffering, most of them the result of highly controlled televisual and photo events during campaigns such as last summer’s Operation Protective Edge and dating two decades have led to Israel being traduced in the media in a way that no other democratic country has.
But what the BBC reporters, the Independent – that last week chose to lead its front page on a dodgy poll on anti-Semitism – and the Guardian (where I worked for 24-years) that last week produced a long essay on the challenges of being Jewish in France have become have failed to recognise is they have created the narrative for economically deprived, disturbed young Muslims to find it legitimate to attack Jewish targets in the diaspora. It is not the old trope about Jews chasing money (repeated recently) that has been the problem but the rat-a-tat of decades of distorted and unbalanced reporting from the region.
The media has created the conditions in which anti-Israel and anti-Jewish feeling have blended into a virulent new form of anti-Semitism.
The media then engages in long hand wringing exercises about who and what is to blame for the new anti-Semitism. The media, of which I am part, needs to look at itself. Because Israel is a more open society than Syria, Libya, Yemen and all the other nations involved in conflicts across the Middle East. It receives far greater attention than can be justified. Until the mass media, now supported by social media, finds a better way of telling the story from the region, our families will continue to face actute danger.
And all that we are proud of in Israel’s story, including the inspiration of projects such as Boys Town, will be as nothing.
Alex Brummer, Vice-President Board of Deputies chair of International Division