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A Jewish Perspective on Politics

Debbie Young-Somers's picture

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Wikipedia says: ‘In recent centuries, non-Orthodox Jews in Europe and the Americas have traditionally tended towards the political left, and played key roles in the birth of the labour movement as well as socialism. While Diaspora Jews have also been represented in the conservative side of the political spectrum, even politically conservative Jews have tended to support pluralism more consistently than many other elements of the political right. Some scholars attribute this to the fact that Jews are not expected to proselytize, and as a result do not expect a single world-state.’

Jews have existed on the political left and on the right. They have often been at the forefront of campaigning for human rights, particularly in the USA and South Africa. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries of course we saw the rise of Zionism, a political movement believing in the need for a Jewish homeland. Israeli politics can get very complicated, and I often find myself arguing both sides of an argument on Israeli politics, convincingly!

Engage and change
Jewish thought has always encouraged us to engage with and change the world – creation is not perfect and we are God’s partners in working towards a better world. Politics may well be a route through which some Jews feel they can best influence the world for the better (though as with all things there are probably people who find their way into politics for more selfish reasons too).

The Jewish community also has its own internal politics, as does every organization from a government down to a local youth club. Power and responsibility are funny old things, but I do think responsibility is a key word in discussing social make-up. In Western thought we are very good at remembering our rights as individuals, but not always so good at remembering our communal responsibility, which has to go hand-in-hand with rights. I feel very privileged to work with so many people who give up their time to contribute to our bit of the community, but am also aware that each person brings a different set of politics and baggage.

We might not always respect another person’s politics, but that doesn’t mean we can ignore their existence. This came up recently when the BNP won seats in the European Parliament. Some of my friends believe that the BNP should be given a no-platform-policy – that is that no one will give them airtime or public platforms to preach hatred from. Other friends believe passionately in the freedom of speech and say the BNP have that right as much as anyone else. The BNP certainly cannot be ignored and are being given public platforms because of their election. My hope is that the more airtime they have, the more holes people will see in their arguments, and the more the BNP will undo any support they had. However, if it turns out there is widespread support for a fascist, xenophobic political party that calls Islam the devil and denies the Holocaust, many in my community will feel extremely uncomfortable in the UK and will probably look to other places, particularly Israel, for a safe haven.