Month: March 2013

Noahides and the celebration of Passover

Religious holidays can be strange times for Noahides or B’nai Noach. As a Noahide living in Britain, I do not observe Christian festivals like Easter and Christmas and yet I am cut off from Jewish festivals such as Passover, partly because there are no Noahide customs to speak of and partly because I live nowhere near a synagogue.

Noahides follow the Noahide Way, a divine moral code (given to Adam, Noah and Moses) which commands the establishment of courts of justice and prohibits idolatry, blasphemy, murder, sexual immorality, theft and cruelty to animals. However, Noahides are not supposed to create new religious festivals, nor are they allowed to observe Jewish religious holidays in the manner of their Jewish brethren.

During Passover, Noahides find themselves in a quandary. How to observe this important holiday without trespassing on Jewish traditions? The general rule is that Noahides are allowed to observe Passover, the Sabbath and other holidays to some extent on the understanding that such observances are not commanded by G-d. In short, a Noahide has the option of commemorating Passover in a modified way, if he or she chooses to do so.

In his book The Divine Code, Rabbi Moshe Weiner reiterates the rabbinical prohibition of setting aside any day for a specific religious observance or statute. However, a Gentile is allowed to eat unleavened bread or sit in a sukkah booth if he does it “for his own satisfaction” and “is not establishing a festival for himself.”

So the removal of chametz is not required of Noahides but there are things Noahides may do in order to appreciate the spirit of Passover, such as spring cleaning, donating to charity, reading the exodus story or having a meal with family and friends, which is the suggestion of Rabbi Yoel Schwartz, from the Jerusalem Court for Bnei Noah.

So, spring cleaning, reading Torah or having a meal with friends are all possibilities for the Noahide. As long as he or she does not establish any ritual observances or establish any customs, it is appropriate to commemorate in some fashion the liberation of the Israelites.

But I am more persuaded by another of Rabbi Schwartz’s suggestions, which is to contemplate the concept of human freedom. The exodus from Egypt, says the rabbi, profited Jew and Gentile alike in that it was “a cleansing from the bad habits of mankind.” Obviously, bad habits like theft and immorality are prohibited by the Noahide code. And a non-Jew who cleanses himself from such “bad habits” and commits himself to the Noahide Way becomes one of the “pious ones of the nations” and earns himself an eternal portion in the World to Come.

Freedom is one of those words that mean different things to different people. As a journalist, I am thankful I live in a country (the UK) where there is freedom of the press. I am also thankful I am not enslaved by a Pharaoh or a Hitler. On the other hand, too much freedom can be dangerous. Allowing Iran or Hamas or North Korea to act with impunity, for example, endangers the freedom of Israeli and American civilians.

There is a difference between liberty and license, which is why G-d commanded the establishment of courts of law. Justice, when it is working properly, protects rather than hinders freedom. So it right and just that murderers, rapists and terrorists have their freedom taken away. But this raises all kinds of issues such as why did G-d create a world in which good and evil can operate freely?

The standard answer is that He gave us free will. And although He urges us to “choose life” (Deuteronomy 30:19), we have the choice to do otherwise. But even when we “miss the mark” or “go astray” there is the possibility of repentance, of turning towards Him and following his divine plan for goodness and kindness. Passover is an excellent time to remember G-d’s power to punish and redeem. Even His punishment of the Egyptians is part of a wider redemptive plan – to liberate the Israelites and turn them into a light unto the nations.

Indeed, one of the reasons Passover is so important is because it is a prelude to the giving of the Torah, which incorporates and expands upon the Seven Noahide Laws. Indeed, Noahides observe the seven laws because they were commanded at Sinai and not because Adam or Noah received them previously. Also important is the fact that HaShem revealed the Torah. This is crucial because a Noahide is only considered righteous if he accepts the seven Noahide laws as coming from G-d. If he derives the laws from his own intellect, he is not considered righteous.

Finally, the exodus is worth contemplating because it is symbolic of the truth that there is no other authority in the universe. Pharaoh’s power is limited, narrow and corrupt – a parody of HaShem’s unlimited and righteous kingship. Both Jews and Noahides proclaim HaShem’s uniqueness, unity and authority. As Rabbi Moshe Weiner states, “it is a continuous obligation for every person to think about and contemplate the existence of the Master of the universe and His greatness, in order to set the knowledge of G-d strongly in his heart and mind.”

King David summed it up when he said, “The LORD is beneficent in all His ways and faithful in all His works.” G-d’s goodness and His immense love for the Israelites were demonstrated during the first Passover and the subsequent giving of the Torah. It is the same belief in G-d’s goodness and power that sustains the faith of Noahides who believe that everything HaShem does is for the ultimate good of the individual and the good of the entire world.

So, for this Noahide at least, Passover is about contemplating G-d’s gift of freedom, His goodness and His faithfulness towards Jew and Gentile alike. Maybe next year I’ll do some spring cleaning.

Peres speech: the Holocaust and Israel

It is a popular misconception that the State of Israel was born from the ashes of the Shoah (the Holocaust) and it is a conception I have always challenged. So I am disappointed that Shimon Peres reiterated this claim during his trip to Europe.

In his speech to the European Parliament in Strasbourg, the 89-year-old Israeli president said “Israel was born from the ashes at the end of the Second World War.” He continued: “If someone had stood up then and said that within three years a Jewish state would be created – he would have been considered a delirious visionary. But the dream became a reality.”

Now, there is some truth in this, of course. Two years after the war, the United Nations voted by a two-thirds majority to divide the land of Israel. The Jews of Palestine rejoiced. The Palestinian Arabs, however, chose war.

But there is a danger in equating the Holocaust with the birth of the Jewish state. For a start, there is a mistaken belief that Palestinians are somehow paying the price for Europe’s mistakes.

The connection between the Jewish people and the land of Israel (Eretz Yisrael) is, of course, ancient. The Jewish people, in one form or another, have lived there for 3,300 years. (The word “Israel” first appears on an Egyptian obelisk c. 1209 BCE.) Despite the Roman Empire’s efforts to de-Judaize the land by renaming it “Palestine,” a Jewish remnant remained in Eretz Yisrael and was occasionally joined by Jewish migrants from other parts of the world. Nor was Jerusalem or Israel forgotten by the diaspora who prayed for a return to the Holy Land. Hence the well-known phrase that traditionally ends the Passover Seder: “Next year in Jerusalem.”

Secondly, the groundwork for a modern Jewish state was laid in the decades before the Shoah. As early as 1917, the British supported the creation of a Jewish state. In 1920, the San Remo Conference of the Allied Powers assigned to Britain a mandate to establish a Jewish national home on territory covering what would become Israel, Jordan and part of the Golan Heights. Two years later, the League of Nations confirmed the Mandate for Palestine. This mandate legalized the immigration of Jews to Palestine and encouraged close settlement of the land.

Thirdly, the Palestinian Arabs were given every opportunity to establish their own state alongside Israel. In fact, they were given their own state in 1923. It was called Transjordan, now simply Jordan. They could have had another Arab state had they accepted the 1947 partition plan. (Not that the Arabs deserved another state, having collaborated with the Nazis in order to bring the so-called Final Solution to the Middle East.)

Peres is widely respected in Europe, so it is a pity that he failed to explain the Jewish people’s historical, religious and legal ties to the land of Israel. In short, Peres’ speech, while full of good things, was something of a lost opportunity.


Here is a copy of his speech, dated Tuesday 12 March 2013:

I stand here before you, burning memories in my heart, great hopes in my soul. I carry profound pain concerning the past. And look with confident eyes to the future. I immigrated to Israel in 1934, at the age of 11. In 1942, most of the inhabitants of my town were burned alive. Had my family delayed their emigration by 8 years, we would have been exterminated. A year before the creation of Israel, in 1947, I was recruited to the Haganah headquarters. Since then, Israel has been attacked seven times in its 65 years of existence. We were outmanned and outgunned. The choice was to win or to die. I participated as well in confronting another enemy – the desert. We won. We made it bloom. No other people experienced anything similar. I have my memories, but I carry my dreams. I did not come to reminisce, but to continue to dream.

People age. Dreams are ageless. We changed. Europe changed. I came to express our admiration for the changed Europe. Europe picked itself up in the wake of the worst of world wars. It divorced its past, it created a new Europe. You converted the divided Europe of the last thousand years, to the united Europe of today. You replaced military camps with scientific campuses. Europe which knew racism now considers it a crime. I know that you are facing an economic crisis, but your skies are without clouds of war. A European country introduced the Nobel Prize. And now a united Europe won it rightly.

Europe corrected its mistakes and is building a better world. For us, the Europe of the Shoah is becoming a Europe supporting our renaissance. Friends, the idea of the rebirth of Israel was born on European soil. In the past thousand years, more Jews lived in Europe than in any other continent. Alas, more Jews were murdered in Europe in the last hundred years than in the preceding two thousand years. We experienced here the worst tragedy of our history. Here we dreamed an impossible rebirth.

Six million, a third of our people, were murdered here by starvation, gas, rifles and fire. What remains from them is ashes. We shall not forget that the righteous among the nations carried candles of light in the darkness. They were small in number but great in heroism.

Israel was born from the ashes at the end of the Second World War. If someone had stood up then and said that within three years a Jewish state would be created – he would have been considered a delirious visionary.  But the dream became a reality. And if somebody would have stood up on that very day, and said that in six short years a new united Europe would be born, with borders erased, barriers lowered, he would have been considered an author of fiction. And another miracle occurred.

Six countries signed the Treaty of Paris and became a community of 27 nations across Europe. Our relations here and now are a dialogue between two miracles. Israel enjoys an Association Agreement with Europe, and close ties with the European Union in nearly all fields. I have come to thank you for your friendship, based on common values, geographic proximity and a long history. Politically – Israel is a Western democracy with a Mediterranean experience.

Religiously – Israel is the cradle of the three great monotheistic religions. Scientifically – Israel is advanced, even by European standards.

Israel is small: One pro mil of the Middle Eastern area. Its soil is barren rather than fertile. A typically Middle Eastern soil. Water is sparse. We have two lakes, one is dead, the other is dying. We have a single river – the Jordan – rich in history, poor in water. The land is rich in archaeology and poor in natural resources. The only natural resource we discovered is the human potential.

Israel is an example where the people enriched the land more than the land enriched the people. It is an example where the devotion of people and merits of hi-tech forced deserts to surrender. To flourish.

We went through seven wars. We won them. But when peace became possible, we returned all the land and assets which we won at war to Egypt and Jordan. We started a peace process with the Palestinians which enabled to build a Palestinian Authority. Then, we evacuated the Gaza Strip. We dismantled 22 settlements and brought back home all the settlers. The Palestinians could have used the strip to build an independent entity. Unfortunately, they turned it into a terrorist base instead.

It became a setback to the peace process. Israel is an island in a stormy ocean. We have to defend our island. And we are interested in the tranquilization of the sea. Some people claim it will take generations. Europe has proved that great events can be achieved in six years. We live in a new era where events are moving at the speed of a plane and no longer at the speed of a carriage. For that reason, I believe that peace can be achieved in a short while.

The peace process with the Palestinians already has an agreed beginning and an agreed solution. Two states for two nations. An Arab state – Palestine. A Jewish state – Israel – living in peace, security and economic cooperation. The remaining disputed issues can and should be negotiated. Peace for Israel is not just a strategic choice. It is a moral call which stems from the depth of our heritage.

Since the Exodus, our heritage condemns slavery and rejects mastery, as all persons were born equal. Our legacy calls upon us to pursue peace. Together with my partner Yitzhak Rabin, we laid down the foundations for peace with the Palestinians. Now it is time to continue. To renew the peace process. We must continue to work with the Palestinian Authority. Support its economy. Achieve peace. A Palestinian security force was formed. You and the Americans trained it. And now we work together to prevent terror and crime.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Our hand remains stretched out in peace to all the countries in the Middle East. In a short while, a new Israeli government will be formed. It is an occasion to resume peace negotiations. To realize the two-state solution. There is no other solution. It is not only our preference but the call of the present reality.

Jordan, Israel and Palestine, find themselves in a similar situation. Terror endangers each of them separately and the three of them collectively. Collective dangers call for collective security. I have the highest regard for the King of Jordan. Like his father, he has proved to be courageously committed to peace.

I have known the president of the Palestinian Authority Mahmud Abbas for many years. He condemns terror and is a real partner for peace. Europe has been and continues to be a major partner for peace and against terror.

Next week, we will be hosting President Obama in Israel as a welcome and esteemed guest. His support for our security is extraordinary and his devotion to peace is unshakeable.

We are glad that the United States and Europe are now working together, supporting peace and rejecting terror.

The greatest danger to peace in the world is the present Iranian Regime. It became a dictatorship cloaked in a religious mantle. It developed an imperial appetite. Nobody threatens Iran. Iran threatens others. It endangers the independence of Arab countries. It menaces the mere existence of Israel. It smuggles arms into many countries in order to undermine their stability. They deny the Holocaust. They call for another Holocaust.

They are aiming to build a nuclear weapon and they deny it. A nuclear bomb in the hands of an irresponsible regime is an imminent danger to the world. The European Union and the United States drew the conclusions and together created a policy to stop this danger. To this end, you rightly decided to impose economic sanctions. You made it clear that if the Iranians will not respond, other options are on the table.

In addition to the nuclear bomb, Iran is constructing long-range missiles equipped with nuclear warheads. It can reach the far corners of the world, including Europe. I believe that in addition to controlling the production of highly enriched uranium – there is a need to control the means of delivery. To control the production of missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads.

Khamenei declared that religion prohibits the production and use of nuclear arms. Why then does he build missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads? During the Helsinki conference which took place in 1975, the U.S.A. placed the issue of human rights in the Soviet Union at the top of the world’s agenda. It was surprising and effective. It shows that the moral voice is no less important than a diplomatic demarche. Today, this call should apply to Iran. A clear voice must be raised against the violation of human rights by the Iranian regime.

A clear voice must be raised against a regime that hangs people without bringing them to court, that throws journalists into prison without trial. That fires live bullets at civilian demonstrators, without respect for their lives. A clear voice must be raised against a regime that discriminates against women. And instead of sharing the oil-generated profits with their own people, they spend them on terror and arms to endanger people all over the world. Enriched uranium impoverishes hungry children.

A moral voice will encourage the Iranian people in their fight for freedom, in their struggle against misery. Very soon, elections will take place in Iran. The Ayatollahs should not be allowed to falsify the results. To frustrate the right of the people to make their own free choice.

Your voice will show the Iranian people that the world has not turned its back on them.The present leaders of Iran are violating the charter of the United Nations which condemns the violation of human rights and aggression against other nations. Yet they are given the opportunity in the United Nations to abuse its platforms.

Iran supports terrorism throughout the world. Its main proxy, Hezbollah, carries out terror attacks and threatens the stability of the entire region.

Ladies and Gentlemen, The historic Sykes–Picot agreement between France and England, gave birth to modern Lebanon to be a multi-cultural country where Muslims, Christians and Druze live together in peace. Today, Hezbollah, supported by Iran, is destroying Lebanon. Hezbollah is a terror organization. Not a political movement. They collect missiles. They are trigger-happy. They hide missiles in peaceful towns and villages. By doing so, they turn them into a war target.

Hezbollah divided Lebanon politically, religiously and ethnically. It turned the land of the cedar tree into a scorched and barren land. Hezbollah is a state within a state. A private army apart from the national army. It sends soldiers to support the massacre of a bloody dictator in Syria. With no authorization of the government of which it is a member.

Recently, 20 terror attempts by Hezbollah were counted all over the world, in India, Thailand, Georgia, South Africa, the U.S.A., Egypt and Greece, among others. Last month, the government of Bulgaria, a member of this European Union, reported that it had identified that the terror attack in Burgas, was carried out by Hezbollah. Five Israeli tourists and one Bulgarian citizen lost their lives. Cyprus recently arrested a Hezbollah terrorist planning a terror attack.

Distinguished Members of Parliament, Your voice is highly respected. We appeal to you – call terror – terror. Save Lebanon from terrorist madness. Save the Syrian people from Iran’s proxies. Save your citizens and ours from Hezbollah. The international community must designate Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. Today, terror’s extent reaches far beyond its previous limitations. Recently, terrorists attempted to take over Mali. Were they to succeed, it would have halted the impressive endeavor of the African continent to recover from its past.

One of the highest hopes for all of us is to see the brave attempt of the African people to build a new science-based economy. The free world cannot stand by as terror imposes its grip onto any part of the world, far or near. It cannot stand by when a massacre is carried out by the Syrian president against his own people and his own children. It breaks all our hearts.

Assad secretly built a nuclear installation and an arsenal of chemical weapons. While the nuclear installation was destroyed in time, the chemical arms remain in his hands to this very day. This terrible danger threatens the Syrian people, the entire region and even Europe. A solution must be found to prevent the chemical weapons from falling into the wrong hands.

The best solution to put an end to the Syrian tragedy might be achieved by empowering the Arab League, of which Syria is a member, to intervene. The intervention of Western forces would be perceived as a foreign interference. The Arab League can and should form a provisional government in Syria to stop the massacre, to prevent Syria from falling to pieces. The United Nations should support an Arab force in blue helmets.

Dear friends, 18 years ago I came to Brussels to sign the Association Agreement between the European Union and Israel. I am happy that reality has surpassed my expectations. Indeed, the association agreement became a partnership. And before long, the partnership became a friendship.

It is on these steady grounds that I propose to the European Union and Israel to cooperate for the benefit of stability and prosperity in the Middle East, and the developing world at large. Israel is described as a Start-Up Nation. I believe that the whole Middle East can become a Start-Up region. Hi-tech incubators can be created all over the region to escape poverty.

Israel is small. So we try to take advantage of our smallness. We discovered that small countries can become great pilot plans. Today, we are trying to build a social model that will bridge the gap between the have and have-nots. The social gap is a major problem for all of us, rich and poor. We are looking for new ways to overcome this gap by democratizing health, education, communication and by reducing the cost of food and housing. This is a burning need for the young generation.

We intend to improve the human condition. To enable each person to possess the capacity of making a free choice for their way of life, by entering the secrets of our brains. The brain is the most illustrious instrument of the world. It has enabled us to build artificial brains. Yet we are still far from understanding the way it functions.

We are strangers to ourselves. Discovering the mechanism of our brain will enable us to become friendly with ourselves and our fellow men. I am glad that this effort gained a new priority and became a major topic for cooperation between our governments, non-governmental organizations, and between us as individuals.

Our global world has no global government. It has become almost ungovernable. We have to look for an alternative. I believe the future ways of governing shall rely on three pillars: National governments will continue to be in charge of the husbandry of the national state.

Global companies will invest in research and development. And the individual will enjoy the capacity to govern themselves by knowing the way their brain functions. Science today is more telling than politics. It is universal and borderless. Armies cannot conquer wisdom. Police cannot arrest science.

I believe that scientific aid to developing countries can enable them to escape poverty. Science-based global companies can help change the world. Globalization put an end to racism. It empowers the individual. Global companies do not impose their will upon people. On the contrary, they respect the will of their clients. They can provide scientific know-how for growth. They can assist young people to acquire high education. To create jobs befitting their skills.

This may be the best help we can offer to the young generation in the Arab world to answer the challenges of the new age. I proposed a plan for a joint venture for the European Union between national governments and global corporations in order to cope with these challenges.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I know it requires your support as the European Parliament. But allow me to count on your help. Joining Europe’s wisdom and Israel’s experience, we can overcome tomorrow’s challenges. Facing the lack of global governance, we can foster close cooperation between governments and global companies. Facing the dangers which threaten the values for which we stand, we shall fight terror wherever it is, relentlessly.

President Schulz, esteemed Members of Parliament, Jean Monnet, the father of the European Union, once said: “Everybody is ambitious. The question is whether he is ambitious to be, or ambitious to do.”

The time has come to do. Let us remember that we are only ever as great as the purpose we serve. Yes, the challenges ahead of us are daunting But who better to defy the seemingly impossible than two miracles? Let us join forces, the European Union and Israel. To fulfill the teachings of our heritage.

In the words of my forefathers, let us fix the world – Tikkun Olam. In the words of Jean Monnet – let us do. Let us work together for a better Middle East, for a forward-thinking Europe.  Let us fulfill our values of peace, democracy, human rights. Yielding at no obstacle. Daring the new.

We shall be servants of the future rather than rulers of the past.

As I look upon the future of the friendship which ties Israel to the European Union, I am filled with hope and determination. Hand in hand, we shall build a brighter tomorrow for tomorrow’s generation.

Thank you and Shalom.

 

 

 

Ed Miliband learns to (almost) love Israel

Ed Miliband, the leader of the Labour Party in Britain has affirmed that he supports Israel and is opposed to boycotts. But he still seems reluctant to call himself a Zionist, which disappoints some in the Anglo-Jewish community.

Speaking to around 300 people at a conference organized by the British Board of Deputies, Miliband said he owed a “debt” to Israel “for the sanctuary it gave my grandmother” who settled in Tel Aviv after World War Two.

The Labour leader said that although he does not always agree with Israel’s policies, he nonetheless considers himself “a supporter of Israel” and expressed intolerance of those people “who question Israel’s right to exist.”

Significantly, Mr Miliband equated the delegitimization of the Jewish state with anti-Semitism. “I think the boycotts of Israel are totally wrong,” he said on Thursday night. “We should have no tolerance for boycotts. I would say that to any trade union leaders.”

Mr Miliband’s support is a welcome boost for those who support Israel and are dismayed by the Left’s hostility towards the Jewish state. Indeed, Mr Miliband himself had, until now, been overly critical of Israel, with much of his ire directed at the settlers in Judea and Samaria.

And while he is still not a fan of the settlements, he has at least called on “moderate” Palestinians to do more to further the cause of peace. And he has refused to rule out military intervention with regard to Iran.

II

But wouldn’t it be refreshing if a leading British politician actually said he or she supported the settlements? After all, Israel’s enemies are hardline about the settlements, so why don’t Israel’s friends take a decisive stand and say: “Yes, the settlers have a right to build on their own land; and no, the settlements are not the obstacle to peace.”

In Britain, it is politically correct to condemn the settlements. But actually, it is factually incorrect to say the settlers aren’t entitled to be there. I urge Mr Miliband to do some research and admit in public that both the 1920 San Remo Conference and the 1922 Mandate of Palestine endorse the creation of a Jewish homeland in Judea and Samaria.

And why do British politicians parrot the same tired argument that the settlements are an obstacle to peace? Who will be brave enough to point out that between 1948 and 1967 there was not a single settlement in Gaza or the so-called West Bank. And yet the Arab states refused to make peace with Israel and made no attempt to establish a Palestinian state when they had the chance.

Why doesn’t Mr Miliband – or for that matter, Prime Minister David Cameron – ask Israel’s critics why the Palestinians chose to elect a genocidal terrorist organization after the dismantling of Jewish settlements in Gaza in 2005?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m pleased Mr Miliband has declared his support for Israel. I just wish he would stop blaming the settlers for the absence of a Palestinian state and strongly criticize the Arabs for never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity.

III

But credit where credit’s due. The Labour leader accepts that British trade unions are contributing to a climate of anti-Semitism.

For years the UK’s Trade Union Congress has been strengthening ties with the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, even if it means a complete severing of relations with the Israeli trade union movement, the Histadrut. Then there’s the University and College Union, which voted in May 2011 to disassociate itself from the EU working definition of anti-Semitism.

Meanwhile, the Co-operative Group, which has close links with the British Labour Party, has singled out Israel. Last year, the Co-op widened its boycott of Judea and Samaria by banning imports from four Israeli companies on the grounds that these companies traded with the settlements. Pro-Israel campaigners have pointed out the hypocrisy of a policy that prohibits some Israeli companies but permits products to be sourced from China and Saudi Arabia, which have genuinely repressive governments.

Unfortunately, this is just the tip of the iceberg. The Anglo-Jewish community is alarmed at the widespread anti-Israel hostility emanating from the Left. Indeed, there is evidence that British Jews – who by and large identity with the State of Israel – feel more threatened by the Left than by the Right.

In 2006, a parliamentary inquiry reported that “contemporary anti-Semitism in Britain is now more commonly found on the Left of the political spectrum than on the Right.” Historian David Cesaeri told the inquiry that anti-Semitism is “masked by or blended inadvertently into anti-Zionism […] because it is often articulated in the language of human rights.” Denis MacShane, who chaired the inquiry, said that singling out Israel for boycotts, while ignoring non-democratic regimes, is “hypocritical and contributes to an atmosphere in which Jews in Britain feel like “second-class citizens.”

The truth is the Left is in a moral mess. Most people on the British Left – including Mr Miliband – want a Palestinian state. And yet they ignore the fact that the Palestinians have repeatedly rejected the opportunity to build an independent country. And isn’t it strange how those on the Left make a song and dance about equal rights but lend their support to the PLO and Hamas, which want to turn Gaza and the so-called West Bank into one-party states? Indeed, it is a curious turn of history that the socialists, who pride themselves on their progressivism, have aligned themselves with illiberal Islamists and war-mongering Arab dictators.

One day the Left may realize it has been on the wrong side of history. Since the collapse of Soviet communism, most socialists have come to realize it was immoral to support Stalin and Mao. But many still cling to their support of Hamas, the IRA and Hugo Chavez. Maybe in fifty years’ time, after the Jewish state has imploded from the pressure of a hostile world or is blown to bits by the Iranians, Israel’s critics will understand why it was indefensible to single out a tiny country for unwarranted condemnation.

Hyperbole aside, I hope Mr Miliband is brave enough to resist pressure from those in his party who want to delegitimize and boycott Israel. And I hope he continues to show support for the beleaguered Jewish state and rethink his attitude towards the settlements. And who knows, he may even learn to love the word “Zionism.”

France and the problem of anti-Semitism

France has a big problem. I am not talking about the dire economic conditions of the eurozone or the number of French troops fighting Islamists in Mali. I am talking about a resurgence of anti-Semitism that has seen French Jews flee their native country for the safety of the UK.

A new report by the Service de Protection de la Communaute Juive (SPCJ) contains some shocking figures. Physical and verbal attacks increased by 82 per cent in the past year, from 171 cases in 2011 to 315 in 2012. A quarter of these incidents involved the use of a weapon.

What’s particuarly upsetting is that in the days following the awful Toulouse shooting in March 2010, there was an average of nine anti-Semitic incidents every 24 hours. And after the October bombing of a kosher supermarket in Sarcelles, there were a further 28 incidents in the subsequent week.

The report makes clear that the number of anti-Semitic attacks far outweighs the number of other racist attacks. In fact, the increase in anti-Semitic acts in France in 2012 is more than 8 times higher than the increase of the other racist and xenophobic acts. This clearly shows that France has a problem with anti-Semitism, rather than racism in general (which is bad enough).

Alarmed by the state of affairs in France, many French Jews have come to Britain, with St John’s Wood and South Kensington being the most favored places of refuge.

In fact, St John’s Wood Synagogue in London has set up a separate French minyan, attended by 120 people every Shabbat. Rabbi Mordechai Fhima, who is from Paris, leads the growing congregation. “Every Shabbat there are new faces,” he says. “My congregants tell me that here they can practise as a Jew more openly.”

French Jews speak of a climate of fear in France, with many afraid to read Hebrew-language books on the trains or wear a star of David. Most of the attacks take place on the street and on public transport. Paris, it seems, is the worst place to live if you are Jewish. Indeed, the number of anti-Semitic incidents in the capital vastly outstrips Judeophobic incidents in Marseille, Lyon and Strasbourg.

But even places like Marseille, where anti-Semitic incidents are fewer, the nature of the attacks are disturbing and are reminiscent of the 1930s and 1940s. The following is an excerpt from the SPCJ report:

A Jewish young man and his friend is yelled at by a group of individuals: “We are for Palestine; we don’t like Jews; we’re gonna kill you. We’re gonna exterminate you all.” The two men keep walking when about 10 individuals storm onto them. The victim is hit on the head, which makes him fall. He is then kicked all over the body while on the ground. They steal his gold Star of David. He suffers from a sprain neck, an internal hemorrhage and needs stitches near the eye.

Britain’s chief rabbi, Lord Sacks, has spoken out against the climate of hostility in Europe, saying that “the position of Jews in Europe today is very difficult,” before adding: “There are threats at this moment to brit mila and shechita, and Jews in Europe have begun to ask, is there a place for us here?”

The sad truth is that Europe does not cherish its Jewish communities. Between 2001 and 2005, around 12,000 Jews left France and went to Israel. Many of those who made Aliyah cited Muslim anti-Semitism as the reason for leaving.

France’s political elite – and the EU leadership as a whole – must do more to tackle anti-Semitism. And they must face the fact that many of the incidents are perpetrated by Muslims. This is not a racist observation. It is statement of fact. Physical attacks, cemetery desecrations, firebombing, graffiti and the bullying of Jewish children by their Muslim peers are frequent events in countries across Europe.

To be fair, the French Prime Minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, is trying to do something about the issue of anti-Semitism. A few days he ago, he and his ministers convened for the first time since 2009 to discuss how to combat racism and anti-Semitism.

 It remains to be seen what the committee actually achieves in practical terms. But let’s hope committee actually does something rather than just talk about it. The right to live a Jewish life in France must be protected and fought for by policymakers. As Simon Wiesenthal once, “freedom is not a gift from heaven: you must fight for it every day.”