On Sunday 18th January 2015, Rabbi Sacks was interviewed on ‘Murnaghan’ on Sky News where he spoke about the increased levels of antisemitism being seen in the UK and around Europe. Video courtesy of Sky News. Transcript below.
DERMOT MURNAGHAN: Now we’re going to ask the question now, is anti-Semitism on the rise in the United Kingdom? A YouGov poll last week suggested that almost half of people in the UK held some anti-Semitic views and it comes at a time of course of heightened anxiety in some parts of the Jewish community in Britain following the attacks in Paris. Well I’m joined now by the former Chief Rabbi to the United Kingdom, Lord Jonathan Sacks and a very good morning to you, Lord Sacks. First of all, talk to me about the fear, how much fear do you see in some Jewish communities in the UK?
LORD SACKS: Well obviously after what happened in Paris you are beginning to get British Jews asking will I be safe going to synagogue or going to a Jewish shop? Will my children be safe in a Jewish school? And that kind of thing is absolutely inevitable, I hope it will dissipate soon but there can be no doubt that there is an anxiety now among British Jews which is pretty much at a record high within my lifetime.
DM: Was it a shock to you, that YouGov poll which showed quite substantial percentages having views about Jews such as they are always trying to make more money, some of those things that go back through the centuries, that some of those views are still prevalent within large sections of British society?
LORD SACKS: However hard you try to eradicate the virus of hate it kind of mutates and it hangs around and it is very disturbing because after the Second World War, after the Holocaust, the whole of Europe engaged in a massive anti-racist campaign, a Holocaust education campaign, a community cohesion interfaith dialogue campaign and that these attitudes still persist must be a worry.
DM: You use strong words there, you say of hate, I mean isn’t some of it a sense that it’s almost uninformed anti-Semitism rather than active hatred?
LORD SACKS: I think there is a lot of ignorance here, yes and all these attitudes are pretty crazy but let’s not exaggerate, this is a minority phenomenon, Britain remains a deeply tolerant society and most British Jews feel very much at home here.
DM: Yet we hear from France that sections of the Jewish population there, again surveys saying well we might up sticks and go to Israel, we haven’t got that far here have we?
LORD SACKS: On the contrary, a lot of French Jews have actually come here because they feel so much safer here.
DM: So what more do you think can be done? What can be done if a rift has opened up what more can be done to get this cohesion back?
LORD SACKS: Well I think the first thing that has to be said is that the government has been very good on this, since the problem first arose. After 9/11 every government since then and the current Prime Minister and the current Minister for Communities, they have been outstanding so Britain has really set a lead here and in Britain, you know I was Chief Rabbi here, all the religious leaders of every faith community knew one another, we were friends together. You work at community cohesion and you achieve it.
DM: You mention that, I mean what would you say and what do you say to your friends in the Muslim community, religious and community leaders there who actually say I was offended by what appeared in Charlie Hebdo and what appeared in the past as well, it did offend me – of course I utterly condemn the actions that were taken as a result of it by those two individuals but it was wrong they feel, what do you say to them?
LORD SACKS: Well it was profoundly offensive and I’m afraid that’s the price of a free society. We are free to say things so that my freedom let’s say to be a Jew or to be a Muslim has to be an equal freedom for all and that must mean that people are free to be critical of Jews and Muslims, I think that is the bargain that freedom for any of us means freedom for all of us.
DM: Let’s bring Christians into the mix, I mean what did you make of the Pope’s comments the other day saying if you offend someone with strong religious feelings you are like to end up with, as he put it, a punch?
LORD SACKS: Yes, look, I think the truth is we’ve got to draw a distinction between what the government legislates and that has to be freedom of speech and what we as individuals do as responsible individuals. I think blur those lines and you get into a lot of trouble. I understand that if I were rude to the Pope he would give me a punch but I would not like that to be …
DM: But let’s get straight to the point, some people found that was rather strange given that he is the Pope and isn’t the doctrine that you should turn the other cheek?
LORD SACKS: That’s a good point! The truth is I think we have to have enough confidence to say that in the long run, freedom for any of us depends on freedom for all of us and that may mean that I have to put up once in a while with something I find very offensive but I do understand Muslim sensitivities and they are real.
DM: Okay, Lord Sacks, very good to see you, thank you very much indeed. Jonathan Sacks there, the former Chief Rabbi.