Recent events in France, as brutal as they were, could have been predicted. There has, unfortunately, been a steady build-up to the ever present worldwide reality of terrorist acts, and sometimes people express fears that are precursors to such horrors which still shock the soul.
In December, there was a conference in Jerusalem of artists and filmmakers, which focussed on how best to use comedy to drive social change. One of the speakers was 40-year-old Danny Cohen, director of all four BBC television networks. He oversees drama, entertainment and knowledge output. He is obviously a whiz kid, who went from being comptroller of the networks to director at a young age.
While in Jerusalem, Cohen was interviewed on Israeli television where he elaborated on what he said at the conference. The headline was, “BBC chief says anti-Semitism makes him question Jews’ future in UK.”
Cohen, who grew up in Britain and attended Jewish day school, said much more about a bleak future. The transcript is chilling.
“I’ve never felt more uncomfortable being a Jew in the UK as I have felt in the last 12 months. And it’s made me think about, you know, is it our long-term home actually? Because you feel it; I’ve felt it in a way I have never felt it before.”
Now Cohen is not just anybody. With his job at the BBC, he has an incredibly high public profile. He is next in line for the top job. And, although not directly responsible, he is still identified with the BBC’s world famous news service, which is often criticized by pro-Israel advocacy groups for biased reporting. Saying what he said could not have been politically easy for Cohen, but silence was not his preferred option.
Cohen also said, “And you’ve seen the number of attacks rise. It has been pretty grim. And having lived my whole life in the UK, I have never felt as I do now about anti-Semitism in Europe.”
This past summer’s Israel-Hamas war led to a striking increase in anti-Semitic attacks in Europe and the UK. In July, there were more than 100 hate crimes reported in the UK alone – more than double the usual number. Among those attacks were an assault of a rabbi in Gateshead, attacks on synagogues and the attack of a Jewish boy riding his bicycle in a north London neighbourhood.
What I didn’t know before researching this column is that Ed Miliband, leader of the Labour Party in the UK, is a Jew who is also deeply concerned about the rise of anti-Semitism in his country. Like Danny Cohen, he laments and worries.
While praising his country’s long tradition of tolerance, Miliband issued a stern warning by stating, “The recent spate of incidents should serve as a wake-up call for anyone who thought the scourge of anti-Semitism had been defeated and that the idea of Jewish families [being] fearful of living here in Britain was unthinkable.”
It is shocking to read these quotes and to consider their impact, especially when you consider what happened in France just a short time after the conference in Jerusalem.
And, you have to wonder about Canada. Politically and socially, we share so much with France and the UK, but I can’t imagine a day when I, or anyone of us in the Jewish community, would say we fear for our futures as Jews living in Canada.
But, if anything, these events remind us we have to be on our guard. We can’t just pretend we are above it and that it couldn’t happen here.
Last summer’s war in Gaza demonstrated to Jews all over the world, all over again, how tough it is for Israel to catch a break in public opinion. With today’s instant news and video, between traditional media and social media, there is an avalanche of anti-Israel viewpoints to cope with – and these are heightened, of course, when there’s trouble.
The depressing and difficult truth is that it isn’t always possible to stay above the fray, totally untouched, in our comfortable Canada.