We, Jewish student leaders in the UK and Austria, were raised in and by the Jewish community, which embedded in us a fierce set of values. We were taught that every individual is deserving of equal respect and rights, regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, sexuality or gender.
These are not values we take lightly; these are the very foundations of our Jewish identity. The injunction to "treat the stranger justly" appears 36 times in the Torah, more often than any other commandment. Those qualities of justice and solidarity distinguished Abraham, who cared for the strangers who visited his tent, from the people of Sodom, who attacked them, and faced divine punishment.
The Shoah survivor, author and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel famously declared: "We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must - at that moment - become the centre of the universe."
It is therefore not only with shock, but with great disappointment, that we see the current government of our Jewish state, and some of our Jewish institutions, giving succour to those who discriminate against other vulnerable communities.
In Europe, it is a fearful reality that the far-right is gaining power and popularity and that the survival of liberal democracy is no longer self-evident. Jewish experience teaches us that political intolerance usually ends with blame falling on Jews.
- I Shut My Synagogue's Doors to Racist Rabbi Meir Kahane. But Others Let Him In
- Netanyahu’s Embrace of Ethno-nationalists Endangers Jews in Europe
- Austria's neo-Nazis Can't Disguise Their Jew-hatred With Trips to Israel
- Bibi in Brazil Offers Brother Bolsonaro a Little 'Help' With His Leftist Dissidents
Yet Israel, the place to which we, as Zionists, are deeply connected, has a government which not only tolerates these views, but invites their most prominent representatives to summits, not least the Visegrad Group, whose aspiration is a Europe of "illiberal democracies."
As a sign of the moral jeopardy this opens up, the formal summit was scuppered (despite bilateral meetings going ahead) not because of a principled move by courageous Israeli leaders, but because the Polish government took WWII historical revisionism more seriously than its relationship with Israel.
Israel’s prime minister lauded the election of Brazil's far-right president Jair Bolsonaro who, among many other comments exposing his weak allegiance to democratic values, and endorsement of torture and racism repeatedly told a congresswoman: "I wouldn’t rape you because you don’t deserve it."
On Holocaust Memorial Day, the World Jewish Congress, one of the major Jewish organisations posted a video of Jair Bolsonaro claiming to support Holocaust remembrance. It is a struggle to believe that the same person who said he would be "incapable of loving a gay son" and they'd prefer his child to die in a car crash rathe than come out as gay, would respectfully and sincerely commemorate the WWII persecution of LGBT+ people in their thousands.
Meaningful Holocaust remembrance looks at the lessons we can learn, and how we can take action to stamp out analogous hateful ideologies. If we take these responsibilities seriously, we can never embrace someone fundamentally opposed to the values behind Holocaust remembrance out of timidity and short-term political gain.
The recent co-option of the racist Arab-baiting Kahanist political tradition into the Knesset is nothing less than an endorsement of the subjugation of the rights of others to the rights of Jewish people. Having struggled for thousands of years against those seeking to remove our rights, getting into bed with the far right in our own state is nothing short of an insult to our history and our Zionism as well as hypocrisy of the highest level.
We understand states seek to protect their interests through realpolitik and pragmatism. But support for, or tolerance of the far-right, is alarmingly short-sighted. Not only is it strategically ill-advised for Israel to align itself with the global far right, it endangers local Jewish communities.
Morally speaking, this is inexcusable. Sacrificing the rights of other vulnerable groups because the far-right are supposedly "good for Israel" is an outrageous contravention of everything Judaism teaches.
Israel thus becomes partner to the legitimization of the far right’s whitewashing of their hateful ideology, not least their anti-Semitism, through a façade of skin-deep support for Israel.
Human rights are Jewish rights and Jewish rights are human rights. We must be robust and we must be outspoken; any homophobe, any misogynist or any Islamophobe is no friend of the Jewish community.
If there is any chance of eliminating discrimination against Jews and non-Jews alike, we must first look at ourselves. As Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin eloquently articulated: "You cannot say ‘we admire Israel and want relations with your country, but we are neo-fascists. Neo-fascism is incompatible with the principles and values on which the State of Israel was founded."
This is a cross-party political issue; no matter one’s views on border control or economic systems, as a people who have faced antisemitism for thousands of years, we must all be able to acknowledge that no individual should be discriminated against simply because of who they are.
As Jews, we should know better than that.