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Noul antisemitism în Marea Britanie – interviul cu șef rabinul Jonathan Sacks

de (20-6-2009)

He wants a YouTube prayer site and a Live Aid for the Jews, and his online peace anthem has had 600,000 hits. The Chief Rabbi is a very modern traditionalist. He doesn’t “do Twitter or texts” — “I’m still chipping away at the stone tablets” — but he wants to produce a “little moment of meditation for your iPhone” with calming music and inspirational images.

This spiritual elder statesman’s prophecies on the future of Britain are read by both Gordon Brown and David Cameron. Christian leaders discuss morality with him, and some Muslim elders once jokingly asked whether he would become Chief Imam. “I always want to say things that are very Jewish but that you don’t have to be Jewish to relate to,” he explains.

Sir Jonathan Sacks says his job was relatively easy until he was rung up just before the turn of the century by a professor of medieval history at Boston University called Richard Landes asking to see him on an urgent matter.

“I thought what is urgent about medieval history,” he says. “But he had discovered that every millennium is preceded by a wave of philo-Semitism and followed by a wave of anti-Semitism. He knew how the British Jewish community was respected and integrated; he wanted to tell me that was all about to change.”

He thought everyone would blame the Jews for the millennium bug. “January 2000 came and went, and there was no collapse of the universe. I thought he’d got it wrong,” the Chief Rabbi says. “Then 9/11 happened and I said: ‘Landes got it right’.”

Sir Jonathan has written a new book, Future Tense, warning of a “virulent new strain of anti-Semitism” that has spread through the world after the terrorist attacks on New York and urging Jews not to develop a “sense of victimhood”. Until September 2001, he says, he had never spoken about nor experienced anti-Semitism in his life. “Suddenly all that changed. Our daughter who was 19 at the time, studying at the LSE, had gone to an anti-globalisation rally which quickly turned into a diatribe against Israel and Jews. She came home weeping and said ‘Dad they hate us.’ I never expected that to happen in the 21st century.”

He began to pick up more signs. “There had been after the Holocaust a kind of taboo and that began to break. Within 24 hours of 9/11 people said it was ‘Mossad wot done it’. Then the anti-Semitism went viral, and it became very worrying. There started to be synagogue desecrations, cemetery desecrations and Jews attacked on the street. We had a rabbinical student who was on the top floor of a bus in Stamford Hill sitting quietly studying the Talmud. Somebody stabbed him many times, he was very lucky to live. The guy who was eventually convicted said, ‘Israel is persecuting us so I decided I had to persecute him’.”

The number of anti-Semitic attacks reached a record level in January of this year, he says, when there were 250 incidents in Britain including arson attacks on synagogues and assaults on Jews in the street. It is in his view no coincidence that that was the month that Israel mounted its offensive on Hamas in Gaza. “If you ask somebody in Britain at random they don’t connect Israel and Jews — Judaism is a religion, Israel is a country in the Middle East,” the Chief Rabbi says. “However, among anti-Semites and Jews, Israel is a code word for Jews, so the perpetrators and the victims understand it very well indeed.”

Jews in this country are, he believes, being blamed for the actions of the Israeli Government. “All the targets were Jewish targets like synagogues, they were not Israeli targets. I was in the synagogue a few months ago when one of the members came in visibly shaken, somebody had just shouted at him, ‘It’s a pity Hitler didn’t finish the job’.”

Although anti-Semitism is common on Islamist websites, Dr Sacks doesn’t want to blame only Muslims for the growing threat. “It’s not just Muslims, it’s an alliance of radical Islamists and radical anti-globalisation people, the people who in 2009 were marching under the banner in America, ‘Hamas Hamas Jews to the gas’. It tends to be as anti-American as it’s anti-Israel. The Iraq War was an irrelevance.”

The media have not always helped, he suggests. “I do think too little of the history has been set out and people don’t really understand what’s at stake so the Jewish community has felt quite vulnerable because of that.”

He calls the most recent wave the “fourth mutation” of anti-Semitism. “Classic European medieval anti-Semitism focused on Jews as a religion; in the 19th century the emphasis was on Jews as a race; the new anti-Semitism focuses on Jews as a nation. It begins as anti-Zionism but it is never merely anti-Zionism when it attacks synagogues or Jewish schools.”

The perpetrators have, he believes, created a modern justification for their hatred. “It is never easy to ask people to hate somebody so you have to validate hate by the most prestigious source of authority within a culture,” he says. “In the Middle Ages that was religion, so you had religious anti-Judaism, and everything that went with it, the inquisitions, the pogroms, the ghettos, the expulsions. In post-Enlightenment Europe the source of authority was science, so German anti-Semitism was predicated on the so-called scientific study of race. In the post-Holocaust world the single greatest source of authority is human rights therefore the new anti-Semitism is constructed in the language of human rights.”

The United Nations has, he believes, fanned the flames — particularly at the World Conference against Racism in Durban in 2001 where, he says, “Israel was accused of the five cardinal sins against human rights — racism, apartheid, ethnic cleansing, crimes against humanity and attempted genocide. So the old myths are recycled they are alive and well but they are done in a new kind of vocabulary.”

Is it as dangerous as Nazism? “In the early 20th century we were talking about the age of the nation state, so anti-Semitism was a phenomenon of national cultures,” he replies. “The internet means that we no longer have national cultures, we have global cultures and the new anti-Semitism is very much a phenomenon of the global culture. Is that as dangerous as the national politics of the 1930s? They are different things. But it’s dangerous.”

Britain’s Human Rights Act has not in his view made the problem worse. But he says: “I am concerned about multiculturalism. It segregated, it didn’t integrate.”

Jews must not, he warns, retreat inwards. “When you are subjected to trauma you can find yourself undergoing a regression to an earlier trauma. Until 2001 the British Jewish community was really doing wonders at integration, it still is in many ways — we have Lord Justice Harry Woolf, Robert Winston, Alan Sugar, Maureen Lipman, Sasha Baron Cohen, we are part of British culture. We thought for 60 years the Holocaust could never happen again, but when the anti-Semitism really began to hit home there was a regression.”

The Government should, in his view, be tougher about throwing Islamic extremists out of the country. “Someone once defined a liberal as somebody who can’t even take his own side in an argument and sometimes the defence of British values sounds like that,” he says.

Although Alastair Campbell once said ‘we don’t do God’, Sir Jonathan thinks there should be more values in public life. “Politicians are made for politics and religious leaders are made for talking about God but the common ground between them is morality. We have begun to see that institutions cannot survive without morality.”

The recession is, he says, a wake-up call to the decadent West. “In the financial sector individuals were pursuing self-interest at the cost of the long-term interest of the people they were representing, and morality fell out of the discourse,” he says. “MPs’ expenses were part of the same thing. There are some things you don’t do even if they’re legal because they’re not honourable.”

He is working with other religious leaders on a moral code of conduct for businesses. “Something went out of British culture when we deregulated Sunday trading and created the religion of salvation by shopping. That encouraged us to borrow money we didn’t have to pay for goods we didn’t need to acquire a happiness that doesn’t last.”

The Government, he says, has done the same by racking up national debt. “Good housekeeping is the essence of responsible economics. The Bible looks on debt as a form of enslavement, so a free society does not build up too much debt either individual or collective.”

Self-restraint is, he argues, “the essence of a free society”. There is a link in his mind between financial collapse, sexual immorality and binge drinking. “I don’t want to sound like a grouchy old man but stuff did begin to go wrong in the glorious Sixties. Civilisation depends on one generation handing on its tradition to the next; if one generation falters the whole edifice of civilisation collapses.”

He thinks the rules now need to be pieced together again. “I want married couples to have a level playing field.” Although he admits he is not a “new man” — “I’m sorry I’m not great at changing nappies” — his daughters both work, and he says: “the opening-up of careers to women is one of the major good things in our life time.”

He hopes he will live to see a radical opening up of the Middle East too. Iran could, he believes be a tipping point. “Every religion has through painful experience learnt that religion must be divorced from power. The Middle East is going through what Europe went through in the 16th and early 17th centuries. It took a long time for Christians who were murdering each other to realise this is not the way. Islam is a younger religion and it will learn it in time.”

Future Tense by Sir Jonathan Sacks is published by Hodder & Stoughton at £16.99

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