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How far Britain has come

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The coronation over the weekend of King Charles III was a leading news story even in countries with little or no affiliation to Great Britain. The event also provided telling insights into how the United Kingdom has changed since the last royal coronation 70 years ago. In keeping with Charles III’s undertaking to be seen as “defender of faiths” in the diverse society that Britain has since become, the ceremony was adapted to include representatives of different faiths. We were proud to learn that our good friend and colleague, Gillian Merron, now Baroness Merron of Lincoln, had been chosen to represent the Jewish community. Following a successful career in politics including a stint as minister in Gordon Brown’s cabinet, she served as vice-president of the Jewish Leadership Council before being appointed chief executive of the Board of Deputies of British Jews. In that capacity, she engaged regularly with the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD), in particular with her counterpart, Wendy Kahn, and in 2017, was among those in attendance at that year’s memorable World Jewish Congress National Director’s Forum in Cape Town.

Baroness Merron’s designated role was to present the Imperial Mantle, or Robe Royal, to the Archbishop of Canterbury, after which it was placed over the king’s shoulders. Interviewed by the Jewish Chronicle, she commented on how “deeply conscious” she was of the significance of this honour, not just for herself but for the community she was representing. This spirit of inclusiveness and respect for diversity is indeed remarkable in a country where for centuries, members of religious minorities were as a matter of course excluded from public and political life. Seeing representatives of the Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, and Sikh communities participating for the first time in so significant a national occasion was also a reminder of how our own country has scrupulously respected the right to equality of all faith communities, and ensured that its representatives are duly included in all public state occasions.

The right to dignity and equality for all faith groups is today also upheld and protected by legislation prohibiting unfair discrimination, including hate speech. There was a time not too long ago when there was little or no recourse for those victimised, insulted, or otherwise unfairly treated on account of their colour, religious beliefs, ethnicity, and other such identity-based grounds. Today, however, a range of remedies are available to address such cases, and the SAJBD has made full use of them when dealing with antisemitic incidents that come to its attention. Over the past week, the Board was able to speedily resolve a number of such incidents. This included addressing two cases of antisemitic hate speech, one in the workplace and the other on a local university campus, and successfully intervening to prevent the screening at a popular public venue of a highly antisemitic documentary film. This last issue was timeously brought to our attention by the Anti-Defamation League in the United States, which shows the enduring value of the working partnerships we have forged with our international counterparts, particularly in recent decades.

  • Listen to Charisse Zeifert on Jewish Board Talk, 101.9 ChaiFM, every Friday from 12:00 to 13:00.

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