Mohammed Amin MBE is Co-Chair of the Muslim Jewish Forum of Greater Manchester. He is writing in a personal capacity.
Understandably, Britain’s Muslims and Jews generally start from different perspectives.
For most British Jews, with memories of the Holocaust, and of the refusal of most of the world to take in refugees fleeing Nazi persecution, still very fresh, Israel is fundamentally about survival. Summarised in two words: “Never again.”
Israel is the one country in the world that guarantees to take in Jews, without restriction. Israel’s Law of Return defines as a Jew anyone who has at least one Jewish grandparent, deliberately mirroring Nazi Germany’s Nuremburg Laws, under which having one Jewish grandparent was enough for you to be persecuted.
Most British Muslims see in Palestine another example of Britain’s Imperial history. After seizing Palestine from Ottoman Turkey during World War 1, Britain in the Balfour Declaration chose to promise the Palestinian’s country to European Jews as a national home, paying only lip-service to the rights of most of the people already living there. The Jewish Virtual Library gives 1918 population values for Palestine of approximately 60,000 Jewish and 600,000 non-Jewish.
I believe that the reason there is so little mutual understanding on this issue is that the Jewish and Muslim perspectives focus on entirely different subjects. It is as if Jews were talking about X-axis values while Muslims were talking about Y-axis values. Proving one to be true would not prove the other to be false. I believe that both perspectives are correct.
The late Israeli author Amos Oz stated in “How to cure a fanatic” that Jews and Palestinians are both victims of European oppression:
“One of the things which makes this conflict particularly hard is the fact that the Israeli-Palestinian, the Israeli-Arab conflict, is essentially conflict between two victims. Two victims of the same oppressor. Europe, which colonised the Arab world, exploited it, humiliated it, trampled upon its culture, controlled it and used it as an imperialistic playground, is the same Europe which discriminated against Jews, persecuted them, harassed them, and finally, massacred them in an unprecedented crime of genocide.”
We can only research and debate the past; we cannot change it.
What Britain’s Muslims and Jews should do is focus on their shared future here, and on how they can help Israelis and Palestinians.
In Britain, Muslims and Jews face a society which is increasingly intolerant of religious believers. That leads to pressures against many religious practices, which we can counter more strongly together. More positively, I cannot think of any two religions that are closer to each other than Islam and Judaism.
Importing the Israel / Palestine conflict into Britain does not help a single Palestinian or Israeli Jew. Instead, we in Britain should do everything possible to help those in the Middle East to build a shared society together, based upon mutual acceptance and respect.
That is why I support many British NGOs which work in the two broad fields of advancing shared citizenship in Israel, and advancing a two-state solution to the conflict with the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel.