17 October 2023

The reaction to Hamas’ atrocities has shown British Jews who’s really on their side


Two Saturdays ago, I awoke to news of Israelis being slaughtered. Young Jewish lives wiped out a music festival. Holocaust survivors living out their last days murdered in their own homes as Hamas did what the Nazis couldn’t. Babies and children taken hostage in underground tunnels in Gaza.

This Saturday, I was inundated with images of marches in London and elsewhere, at which people chanted ‘from the river to the sea’ – a cry to wipe out Jews. At the event in the capital, there were two women with images of Hamas terrorists on paragliders – the ones they used to enter Israel in order to kill civilians – pinned to their clothes.

In between, we’ve had protests outside the Israeli embassy. Yes, Israelis were murdered in cold blood and the response of some was to protest the victims. Or to celebrate. There were images on the day of the terror attack of people in the London waving Palestinian flags, playing music and cheering. The less said about some of the responses on social media the better.

‘Free Palestine’ was also daubed on a bridge in Golders Green, the heart of the UK’s Jewish community. Some Jewish schools also felt compelled to close their doors on Friday in a bid to protect students and staff. 

The Community Security Trust (CST), the organisation that fights antisemitism and helps keep Britain’s Jews safe, wrote in an update on Monday that they had ‘recorded at least 320 antisemitic incidents across the UK’ since the terror attacks in Israel took place. That is compared to 47 incidents in the same 10-day period last year, a 581% increase. It seems to defy logic that Jews being massacred should lead to a rise in antisemitism, rather than solidarity, and yet that is the reality.

I point all of this out not because it will have passed readers by, but to emphasise just how scary it is to be a British Jew at the moment. We are all accustomed to the extra security at our religious, educational and communal venues, but now we are making decisions on how overt to be with our Judaism in our day-to-day lives. Do we hide our Star of David necklaces, or not even wear them? Should men cover their heads with a baseball cap outside, instead of having their kippah (head covering) visible? There is always some degree of this going on, but it is greater now. It is a genuinely scary time to be British Jew, and I suspect a Jew elsewhere in the world too.

However, the actions of senior political figures in the UK have been very reassuring. Rishi Sunak, James Cleverly, Sir Keir Starmer, David Lammy and Sadiq Khan are just some of those who have risen to the occasion. The Prime Minister spoke movingly at a major synagogue last week. Cleverly headed to Israel, where he had to run for cover as yet more missiles headed into the country. Among other things, Khan went to a kosher restaurant, showing nothing but solidarity with a minority community in the city of which he is Mayor.

No doubt many of those making life uncomfortable for British Jews will justify their actions by saying they have nothing against us, just those dastardly Israelis. And that they are standing up for the Palestinians, not attacking the Jews. It is all about the Israeli response. Of course. 

The problem with that argument is that plenty of the antisemitic behaviour started before Israel had really responded, when the country’s security forces were still trying to rid civilian populations of Hamas terrorists. As officials were starting to count the dead. As we’ve learned more about the horrors that took place in Israel on 7th October, as more bodies have been found, that has not curtailed this behaviour. As those CST stats show, it has only increased.

And it is exhausting. Diaspora Jews know that as soon as Israel is attacked and has to respond the bile will turn on us. Meanwhile, we have spent the last 10 days trying to find out if friends and family in Israel are safe and whether they have been called up to the army. We have been checking in on each other to see how we are all holding up. It has been somewhat comforting to receive, unprompted, messages from non-Jewish friends to see if I’m OK. It shows a growing understanding that this is not yet another war in a far-off land, but one that effects a country and people we are connected to.

There is no pleasure in seeing the humanitarian catastrophe unfolding in Gaza as the IDF tries to eliminate Hamas, a group that does nothing to improve the lives of its own people. Nobody wants to see innocent Palestinian civilians die. That is why all communities need to stand together, not be dragged apart as some try to instil fear in Jews.

The global consequences of what has happened over the last 11 days will be far-reaching, but the initial period of difficulty for British Jews will pass. Until the next time. We have though learned who equivocated during a pogrom. We will remember how friends and colleagues who usually can’t wait to show their support for a fashionable cause went silent. And that will be hard to move on from. 

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Charlotte Henry writes the media and tech newsletter The Addition.

Columns are the author's own opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of CapX.