by Jack Omer-Jackaman                                      

Jack Omer-Jackaman differentiates Israel’s physical existence and actions from Zionism’s ideas and perceptions.  He chronologically traces the effect of Zionism and Israel on Anglo-Jewish identity from the founding of the State in 1948 until the 1982 invasion of Lebanon.  To start with, the author detects two distinct attitudes towards the fledgling State represented by the Board of Deputies of British Jews (BoD) and by the Anglo-Jewish Association (AJA).   The BoD is fiercely supportive whilst the AJA more concerned with the negative UK public perception of dual loyalty. Will I be accepted as British and at the same time can I be a supporter of the new homeland for the Jewish people?  This was the sort of question that my Jewish parents and their friends were asking in the 1950s and early 1960s. And their answers echoed both the BoD and the AJA.  Some, including many holocaust survivors, were victorious.  Others, like my parents, more ambivalent and rather anxious that their new identity does not imply any doubt of their loyalty to the country that had made them so welcome. 

The next major shift in identity occurred in 1967 when Jews all over the world feared annihilation with the build-up of Arab armies on every Israeli border.  When the Six Day War was over, British Jews were proud of their new warrior status. They no longer perceived themselves as victims. No longer identifying with the Prophet Hosea’s ‘trembling‘ Israelites; a motif that Omer-Jackaman uses throughout the book.  The fight begun in 1948 for security in the Jewish state was over. For secular Jews, a new and exciting pride in their Jewish identity.  For religious Jews, a powerful spiritual experience with the re-gaining of many Holy sites and the Temple in Jerusalem.  Omer-Jackaman agrees with David Cesarani who describes the war as the means by which Zionism replaced Judaism as a unifying force in Anglo-Jewry[i].

The author spells out the responses of British Jews to the different Zionist visions before describing the memorable shift in Anglo-Jewish identity that arose after the 1982 invasion of Lebanon.  The attempted assassination of the Israeli ambassador to the UK, Shlomo Argov plus the renewed shelling of Israeli settlements on the border with Lebanon led to ‘Operation Peace for Galilee’.  The assassination of the Maronite leader, Bashir Gemayel triggered the Phalangists supported by Ariel Sharon’s directive to the IDF to enter Sabra and Shatila refugee camps where 2300 people were murdered.  Anglo-Jewish identity took a beating.  The feminist magazine Spare Rib banned Jewish writers, anti-Zionist, anti-Israel and anti-war demonstrations broke out and Jews were once again divided as to how to act.  The BoD encouraged Jews not to criticise Israel but not everyone agreed. Jewish activists from Peace Now with the backing of Knesset member Peres thought otherwise. Dual loyalty came back into the ring with accusations that Jews who criticise Israeli policy are doing it to impress gentiles and out of fear that their

acculturated lives will change. Others said that a Jewish homeland in Israel must be defended at all costs citing the refusal of western nations to take in the survivors of the Holocaust. 

Lebanon marked the end of an era and the end of this book.  What particularly interests me is looking at the antisemitism that we see in Britain today in the light of past Anglo-Jewish experience.  For me, a bit of a rude awakening.  I was not aware of antisemitism growing up in South London sixty years ago. I was not aware of antisemitism in North London in the intervening years.   Only in the last few years have I had to call out the overt and covert antisemitism that I now see in all walks of life.  From Omer-Jackaman’s book, I understand that antisemitism never went away.

I am not at all sure that I have done justice to this amazingly accessible yet nuanced book full of interesting Anglo-Jewish history.   Read it.  Just read it and demand the next volume! 

[i] One Hundred Years of Zionism in England