Rabbi Jonathan Sacks Addresses London Conference on Anti-Semitism
Remarks by Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks
To the International Conference Against Anti-Semitism
House of Commons, London, UK
February 16, 2009
Posted: February 16, 2009
Let me thank all of you who have come to this gathering. Let me do more than thank you. Let me bless you for being here. For one of the worst things about being hated is the fear that you are alone. Because of you, Jews know that they are not alone. Speaking about another kind of hatred, Martin Luther King said: What we will remember is not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends. You are true friends, and you have not been silent. So I thank you from the depths of my heart.
What is anti-Semitism, and why does it exist? There have been many theories, but one includes them all. It is dislike of the unlike - the fear, then the hate, of people who are different. And it has been the fate of Jews to be different. For centuries, in Christian Europe, Jews were not Christian. Today, in a largely Muslim Middle East, Jews are not Muslim. But that fact alone tells us why the fight against anti-Semitism is so important.
Because we are all different. No two human beings are the same, not even genetically identical twins. Difference is what makes us human. So a world, a nation, a country, that has no room for Jews, has no room for humanity. Anti-Semitism may begin with Jews, but it never ends with Jews. Anti-Semitism is an assault on our humanity.
What is different about the new anti-Semitism? Three things.
First, it focuses not on Jews as individuals but on Jews as a nation in their own land. Criticism of Israel is not anti-Semitism. But it becomes anti-Semitism when Jews are attacked in the streets of London, Paris, or Amsterdam, when synagogues are vandalised and Jewish schools set on fire.
Second, it focuses on the Holocaust. Millions of people throughout the world took to the streets between 2002 and 2007 in protest against the war in Iraq. What did they say? 'Stop the War', 'War is not the answer,' and 'Not in my name.' If that is what they said about Israel and Jews, we would not complain. We would not be afraid.
In January of this year, people protested throughout the world against the war in Gaza. But they used a different kind of language altogether: 'Israel, The Fourth Reich,' 'Israel the new Nazis,' 'Stop the Nazi Genocide', 'Hamas, Hamas, Jews to the gas.' People walking to synagogue here in the middle of London were shouted at with the words 'Hitler should have finished the job.' When the Holocaust is used, not as an argument against hate, but as an expression of hate itself, something dangerous is taking place.
Third, the new antisemitism is not local. It does not belong to this country or that. It is global, spread by the new media of the global age, by satellite television and the Internet. That is why this conference is so important, because a global problem needs a global response.
How bad is it? Well, in January of this year, antisemitic incidents rose to their highest level since record-keeping began. There were 250 incidents in Britain alone: Jews abused in the street, Jewish students intimidated on campus, and attacks on synagogues and other Jewish buildings.
But this is not the 1930s. What worries me are not the physical assaults, but the climate of opinion that is being formed. People are preaching and teaching hate, and hate is never harmless. It may take a year, even ten years, even a generation, but hate eventually becomes violent. That is why we have to take a stand, now, when we still have time.
So I thank you again, all of you, our hosts the British government, and you who have travelled to be here. This week you will have the chance to begin something great in the midst of difficult and dangerous times. It takes courage to take a stand against hate. You have that courage.
So I end as I began, with a reminder that antisemitism begins with Jews but never ends with Jews. An assault against difference is an assault against our humanity. For the sake of humanity, may all you do be blessed.