by the Rt Revd Paul Bayes, Bishop of Liverpool
Luciana Berger is the MP for Liverpool Wavertree. In the House of Commons’ Antisemitism debate she recounted her story – a history of family members killed and exiled because they were Jewish, and a personal experience of the most vile abuse from people in this country and in the United States. Since 2013 four people have been imprisoned for abusing and harassing Luciana, and an additional person is on remand presently, “having made threats to my life and to my faith.” She has received up to 2,500 hate messages a day, mostly via websites originating in the United States. The hashtag #filthyjewbitch has been used against her countless times. You can hear her speaking about these things here.
When I became bishop of Liverpool in 2014 one of my first acts was to write to Luciana and to express the unflagging support of the Diocese for her and for those many Jewish people, both in our region and nationally, who suffer anti-Semitic abuse every day. The Jewish community in Liverpool has made an enormous contribution to our common life over many generations, and I know that my colleagues in the Diocese also wish to offer support and solidarity to our Jewish friends and neighbours at all times, but especially whenever they suffer the dreadful abuse that Luciana describes.
Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks is an immensely influential thinker and communicator, articulating the place of faith in the public square as few others can. He served as Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth for 22 years between 1991 and 2013. In a “Thought For The Day” broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on April 20th 2018 he said this:
“I’ve been doing Thought for the Day for thirty years but I never thought that in 2018 I would still have to speak about antisemitism. I was part of that generation, born after the Holocaust, who believed the nations of the world when they said: Never again.” And he went on to say: “The appearance of antisemitism is always an early warning sign of a dangerous dysfunction within a culture, because the hate that begins with Jews never ends with Jews.” His words are published in full here.
I write about these things in ViaMedia for two reasons. Firstly, to express again my own (and I hope your) revulsion at all forms of anti-Semitism and publicly to express solidarity and support for the Jewish community. And secondly to point to a more general and disquieting trait in all of us – people and organisations alike – that can stop us noticing the effect of discrimination of any kind.
This trait is strongest in those with strong value-systems or strong faith. It is the trait that says (of any minority group) “Our values and faith oppose discrimination. So of course we’re not against xxx; all our lives we’ve fought against xxx. Our self-identity is bound up with being against xxx. So it must just be coincidence, or the effect of a few bad apples, that victims of xxx are underrepresented or unhappy or marginal here”.
The leaders and members of the Labour Party have had a difficult few weeks as they have come to see that when they say “we oppose all discrimination; of course we’re not anti-Semitic” they are not automatically believed.
And similarly in the Christian churches, there are many of us who say for example “we love all people as children of God; of course we’re not racist, or homophobic/biphobic/transphobic” and who are then distressed and even angry when we are not automatically believed.
But the question is not only “What do you say?”. It’s also “What do you do?”
In this short article I have no direct criticism to make of the Labour Party or of any other political party or group of people with values and faith. As a church leader I live in a glass house and in any case, Jesus said that only the sinless should be throwing stones.
But I wanted to say here that I have learned a great deal from the stories of my friends and neighbours who are Jewish, or who are LGBTI+ in orientation and identity, or who are people of colour.
I have learned that the inclusion to which my values and faith call me is not achieved by cheap and one-off proclamations of love or justice for all. It is a daily discipline, to be advocated and commended and struggled for in every concrete circumstance.
I have learned that it is good to stand alongside those who suffer discrimination – alongside Luciana Berger, alongside Jonathan Sacks, alongside those in our local Jewish or Islamic communities, or communities of colour, or in the LGBTI+ community.
I stand alongside these friends not to “give them my support” but to learn from them how to bear pain and fight for justice, and how to be an ally, and how to discern in myself the roots of discrimination and exclusion, and how to work daily to tear these roots out and to stand with my friends wholeheartedly.
May God help us all in these daily tasks, and call us to return to them, and to renew them. Daily.