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January 13, 2014 3:53 pm

Former Chief Rabbi Sacks Tells CNN’s Amanpour Resurgent Anti-Semitism Main Worry (VIDEO)

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Rabbi Jonathan Sacks being interviewed by CNN's Christiane Amanpour. Photo: Screenshot / CNN.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks being interviewed by CNN's Christiane Amanpour. Photo: Screenshot / CNN.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks told CNN anchorwoman Christiane Amanpour  that resurgent anti-Semitism is his prevailing worry for world Jewry.

In a transcript of the interview uploaded to the internet at the weekend,  the former Commonwealth Chief Rabbi and now Professor of Judaic Thought at New York University and Yeshiva University, said, “Christiane, I am very worried about the return of anti-Semitism to Europe.”

“We had a European Union report on this in November of last year and that showed that three-quarters of the Jews interviewed right throughout Europe were of the view that anti-Semitism has increased in the past few years. Two-thirds of them expressed personal concern. One quarter have experienced some form of anti-Semitic incident. 23% are saying there are certain Jewish events we don’t go to for fear of being attacked. I mean that is serious. There are serious levels of anti-Semitism in a number of European countries, and for that to happen within living memory of the Holocaust is simply unthinkable, and I don’t believe anyone should take that lightly.

“If you’re asking what is leading to this I think we always know that anti-Semitism historically occurs in eras of great change where people are feeling very anxious and very threatened by technological, economic and industrial change. I think there are worries about the state of the European economy, levels of unemployment amongst young people, and people turn to somebody to blame. Now historically Jews have always been blamed. Even if there were no Jews in the country, Jews have always been blamed. It’s a demonic phenomenon that has been around in Europe for a thousand years and I think should concern the European political leadership very seriously. I don’t think that Europe could ever walk tall again if it allowed anti-Semitism to return after a mere thirteen years ago, on January the 27th 2000 every European Union (country) sent a head of state or a foreign minister to Stockholm to commit themselves to a program of fighting anti-Semitism, and here we are thirteen years later with it having come back.”

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When asked about his view of the ongoing peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, Rabbi Sacks said he thought the measures taken by the Israeli government to protect its citizens after years of violence from suicide bombings have been successful, but that the Jewish people’s experience with persecution compels them to seek peace. “We’ve got just too many tears in our history to make us indifferent to the suffering of others,” he said.

“When Israel was facing, you know (in) 2002, suicide bombings on a daily basis. When my own brother was saying goodbye to his children on the school bus not knowing whether he might never see them again, nobody wanted that to be the way that Jews lived. Having gone through a Holocaust to live through that trauma, and everything that was involved in it was a terrifying thing, but in the end Israel came through it and came through it I think with strength and with dignity. And Israelis never give up on the prospect of peace. If you tried and failed for sixty-five years Christiane, not that you are remotely capable of being that old but I mean the fact is if you’ve tried and you’ve failed all those years you’d expect people to despair, but Israelis are pretty good at hope…”

“I think we’ve got just too many tears in our history to make us indifferent to the suffering of others. And we know perfectly well that this is a chance – you know, it’s a millennial opportunity for Jews to create a good, fair, and just society, and at the same time protect yourself against a constant risk of terror, and I think Israel does a magnificent job of doing this, and I am very pained when it is criticized around the world, because no country in the world faces those risks that severely.”

On Iran, Sacks said that rather than as a question of Israel’s relationship with the Islamic Republic, the problem should be considered for its potential global ramifications, with Iran remaining a threat to Israel and the West. When asked if he was “aware of a different tone coming out of Iran,” the rabbi replied that he wished he was.

“I wish I was, but the Iranian policy preceded President Ahmadinejad, and it’s not clear who is in the end the key factor in deciding Iranian policy. And I think to make a distinction between Jews on the one hand and the state of Israel on (the) other is not the kind of thing that fills me full of relaxation. I think Iran remains a threat. It remains a threat not just to Israel, but to the West, and I really don’t think they should be seen solely as an Israeli problem. It is a matter of grave concern to all of us.”

The interview was broadcast before Ariel Sharon died on Saturday, but with reports that his organs were failing, Anampour asked the rabbi for his thoughts on the Israeli leader whom he knew personally.

“I knew Ariel Sharon towards the end. And he was one of those figures that – Israeli politics delivered quite often people who are military heroes, who became in late life people of peace, people willing to take very considerable risks for peace. Menachem Begin was one; Yitzhak Rabin was another – lost his life for the cause of peace. Ariel Sharon pulling back from Gaza, a very controversial thing to do, was actually somebody who had gone through this profound realization that we need to find a new way in the Middle East. We need to make peace with the Palestinians. And he showed immense courage in doing so. And I think people from his kind of background, who make that kind of change, are to me real moral heroes – fighters for peace, who are willing to take risks for peace.”

When urged to pronounce on Sharon’s legacy, Rabbi Sacks acknowledged the 1982 Sabra and Shatilla massacre committed by Lebanese Christian militia that Sharon as Israel’s Defense Minister had resigned over, but said he admired his work as a conciliatory political leader after his career in the Army.

“We know perfectly well that Israelis, in unprecedented numbers, came out on the streets to protest – enormous crowd. And we know Israel instituted its own investigation of the events, and we know that they did not leave Ariel Sharon without some criticism, some real criticism. But I am talking about the man I knew in the last years of his conscious and active life. That man was a very different man. And when people are able to make an enormous change, moving from being people of belief in military solutions to people who believe that military solutions may win the battle, but they don’t win the peace. For somebody to make that kind of move earns my kind of admiration. I like the people who realize maybe the way I chose in the past was wrong. Not that many politicians make that kind of move. He did.”

On the question of Jewish continuity and his thoughts about the next generation of Jewish leaders, and his new role as professor in New York, Rabbi Sacks said he thought young Jews were returning to the ancient wisdom of Judaism to find strength and direction in a modern world that, while outwardly very different, shares much with the eternal struggle of youth through the ages.

“Well I think young Jews who are born a long time after the Holocaust, a long time after the critical events in Israel’s history, are looking for some positive message of spirituality, something that lifts, something that makes them feel that Judaism is, as I argued, the voice of hope in the conversation of humankind. There’s something about Jews that makes us want to try and make the human situation better without losing our particular identity. I think it’s incredibly important that Jews have always believed that you don’t have to be Jewish to win salvation, and that’s a very important doctrine in an age in which religious conflict is very real and very dangerous. So I’m looking forward to an engagement with young American Jews, looking at the positive messages of Jewish spirituality and of our ability to serve God with joy, which is what King David used to say in the Book of Psalms, his wife thought he’d lost a bit of dignity while he was dancing around bringing the Ark back into Jerusalem. But I’m more than happy to lose a bit of dignity to dance with young Jews and let the Jewish spirit sing.”

Watch part of Rabbi Sacks’ CNN interview below:

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