Civil rights legislation and attitudinal changes towards African Americans evolved in 20th Century America as a direct result of pressure that political leaders and Government officials felt from grassroots activities that emanated and began in the Black churches, among their church leaders, and with their activist followers. Similarly, the Soviet Jewry movement developed largely because a singular group of young Jewish activists, a few far seeing rabbis, and a group of knowledgeable young professionals successfully pushed American Jewish leadership to respond to demands to elevate the plight of freeing Soviet Jews to the top of the national Jewish agenda. So too, in the post-Holocaust era much of the pro-Israel advocacy has developed–even more so in the post Six-Day War–as a result of a cadre of young educated Jews who understand American politics and recognized that they could most effectively motivate establishment Jewish leaders by emulating the growing behavior of pressure groups in other sectors of American society towards an agenda that was focused on advocating on behalf of Israel's needs. (In addition, they were led by a very sophisticated group of pro-Israel, politically trained, professionals largely situated within AIPAC.)
It is in this context that the apparent rousing grassroots phenomenon in Britain is fascinating and very significant. Lay and rabbinic leaders in Great Britain have historically been exceedingly reluctant to engage Government in any way concerning public attitudes towards Israel. While their behavior does indeed reflect traditional English reserve, most British leaders tend to persist in following a pattern which is totally at odds with the way American Jews respond to issues of concern to the Jewish community; that is especially true today in responding to attacks against Jews or Israel. While there are, admittedly, some examples of vocal Jewish call-outs, these have not been the norm.
It is, therefore remarkable, to see that Anglo Jewish grassroots advocates, even in smaller communities like Brighton, are pushing the established Jewish community to address the blatant anti-Semitism as well as anti-Israel feeling which is growing rampart in Great Britain in numerous and diverse circles. While left-wing and extreme right-wing voices historically have been vocal in Britain and on the continent–moreso than has been present in the U.S. for almost 70 years—what has evolved most recently suggests a significant and acceptable swing among different segments of British society.
The most recent instance has come in the recent episode involving Sainsbury supermarket in London. A decision made last weekend to empty shelves of Kosher products–even non-Israeli–products—suggests a totally unacceptable example of anti-Israel boycott gone anti-Semitic. Protests against products produced in some West Bank settlements, for example, has existed in some stores for a number of years. Demonstrations and boycotts against Israeli manufactured goods and their outlets—such as AHAVA for example– have also existed, but this time the protest appears to be going mainstream.
It would seem to be that the failure of Jewish leaders and the Jewish community to protest the one-sided attacks on Israel and Israeli products– which had been prevalent intermittently for years in Britain–is now coming home to roost. While some of this appears to be improving, had the community been more forceful and articulate and not so squeamish or timid, much of this might never have developed. In addition, the continuing absence of significant political voices supporting Israel, condemning anti-Semitism, attacking Israel boycotts, attacking cuts in arms supplies, over time might well have helped to create a climate less knee-jerk in its support for the Palestinians. While admittedly the growing Muslim population exceeds that of the Jewish population in Britain; prejudice, bias, off-balance moral equivalency, and historical British pro-Arab romanticism might have been preempted.