Martin Bright

Israel, radical Islam and the EDL

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I realise the title of this post looks like an open invitation to every lunatic conspiracy theorist on the web. But I'm afraid there's no avoiding this. Israel and the radical right (be that of the Islamic variety or the most traditional sort) are taking up a lot of my thinking time at the moment.

Anyone who cares about these issues should look up two stories in this week's Jewish Chronicle. The first contains the news that one of the most senior figures in the British Jewish community has said that diaspora Jews should be free to criticise Israel.

Mick Davis is not a particularly well known figure outside the Jewish community, but as the chair of the United Jewish Israel Appeal (UJIA) and the Jewish Leadership Council, what he has said comes close to an official breach of a Zionist taboo, which says that Jews who have chosen to live outside the state of Israel do not have the right to take issue with the tough decisions made by those on the front line. 

At a discussion event last weekend with American journalist  Peter Beinart, Mr Davis described Israel's new loyalty oath for non-Jewish immigrants as "repugnant". However, it is his comments about the effect of Israeli policy on the diaspora which will have the most lasting resonance. "I think the government of Israel … have to recognise that their actions directly impact me as a Jew living in London, the UK," he said. "When they do good things it is good for me, when they do bad things, it's bad for me. And the impact on me is as significant as it is on Jews living in Israel."  

The second story concerns the anti-fascist magazine Searchlight, whose editor Nick Lowles has made the courageous decision to throw his weight behind the fight against Islamic extremism. Writing on Searchlight's Hope Not Hate blog earlier this month, Mr Lowles said the English Defence League and Muslims Against Crusades (the Islamist radicals who caused outrage by burning poppies and calling for the establishment of a new Muslim Waffen SS) were two sides of the same coin.

Now Mr Lowles has told the JC:

"Islamist extremism has been the elephant in the room for too long. Everyone knows it is wrong and is actually part of the problem but people have either been bullied into silence or lack the confidence to speak out.

"Islamist extremism is no friend of a progressive society. Staying silent on attitudes and behaviour that is both wrong, offensive and downright dangerous is abandoning one's own progressive values and moral compass. Remaining silent and uncritical will be viewed by others as passive support or acceptance and that is not the basis to build a popular broadbased campaign against Islamophobia."

Both stories are united by a common thread: they are tales of courageous leadership. It is possible to take issue with the stances taken by Mick Davis and Nick Lowles. But both have refused to accept the conventional wisdom, which demands silence, and instead chosen to speak out on issues which too many accept as beyond resolution. I salute them both.