24 April 2024

When will London be safe for Jews?


When I moved to East London, I walked into a busy barber shop for a trim and my olive complexion was greeted with the question, ‘You Arab mate?’. Rather than give a detailed response about my Jewish heritage, I just responded, ‘No mate, I’m from Leicester’. Whilst some people might find my reply deceptive, I think many Jewish people will understand the dilemma of being so open about their Jewishness. 

It’s not that I was scared of the Muslim barber, or the fact that the majority of clients at the time were Muslim – if that was the case I’d have never walked into the shop. It was that I was scared that by identifying myself as Jewish, I might incur unwanted attention or harassment, as so often has been the case in the history of the Jewish people.

In reality, having been back many times to the same barbers, I can tell you that they are some of the kindest and most welcoming people out there. They give free haircuts at Ramadan, they provide weekend work to kids who might otherwise be off creating mischief, and when I went in just last week, they were shaping up a lively local who had fallen on hard times and was clearly short of cash. 

Yet I’ll be honest. Despite becoming very friendly with them, I’m still hesitant to tell them about my lineage. I know they are all sympathetic to the Palestinian cause – and who isn’t? No one wants to see innocent civilians caught up in this war and for children to become the victims of violence.

But the concern is how often pro-Palestinian voices become pro-Hamas voices. A recent poll by JL Partners found ‘British Muslims are more likely to have a positive view than a negative view of Hamas’. Given that this proscribed terrorist organisation believes in committing genocide against Jews, you can understand the hesitation of identifying myself as having a Jewish father. 

It’s something that the Metropolitan police force is also aware of but has refused to admit until recently. In a now viral video, a police officer tells a man his presence near a pro-Palestinian march is ‘provocative’, because he was ‘openly Jewish’.

This has been met with fierce criticism from across government and the Met have been forced to issue two apologies. The government’s adviser on political violence, Lord Walney, said Britain’s largest police force ‘has too often in recent months not got it right’, whilst former Home Secretary, Suella Braverman, has called on the force’s Commissioner, Sir Mark Rowley, to resign. 

But in response, Rowley has come out fighting, calling Gideon Falter, the man involved in the incident, ‘disingenuous’ and suggesting the officer involved feared there was a danger of violence if Gideon came to close to the protests. 

This response has received much criticism on social media. But I think people are wrong to criticise the police response. In fact, I think we should be applauding the officer and indeed Sir Mark… applauding them for telling the truth – finally.                                 

The truth is that the now regular pro-Palestinian marches have made the streets of Central London unsafe for openly Jewish people. Had Mr Falter been allowed to cross the street as he wanted to, there’s a real possibility he would have been attacked by the protesters for the simple fact he was Jewish. So regardless of whether Mr Falter intended to make this point or not with his actions, it does not change the fact that openly Jewish people are in danger if they come into contact with these protests. 

That is hardly surprising given the number of antisemitic chants heard on these marches. ‘From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free’ – a call for the destruction of Israel and a genocide against its people is a regular favourite of the protesters. 

Too many people attending these marches are not there solely to call for more protection and aid for the Palestinian civilians caught up in the Gaza conflict, instead they march in support of a terror group they believe to be a legitimate resistance movement. 

There’s a grim irony in protesters enjoying the civil liberties afforded to them in the UK to advocate for Hamas – a group that bans them in Gaza. Hamas’ tyrannic grip also sees gay men pushed off the top of tower blocks and views women as the property of their husbands. 

Jewish people should not have to experience such open hate on the streets of Britain. No one should. Jews, Muslims, Christians, or members of any other faith should be able to express their religion or heritage freely and safely in modern Britain. Equally, we must balance that with the right for all people to express their views and opinions no matter how much we disagree with them. 

But when we reach a point where the police openly admit it is physically unsafe for someone to walk down a road because others may react violently towards them for simply being a different religion, we have passed the point of peaceful expression. The law is clear on where this line is, but it requires the police to enforce it rather than shirk away from their responsibility.

The police need to stop being bystanders to antisemitism and start taking action. When antisemitic language is used by the crowd it should be dealt with there and then. When placards call for a genocide against the Jewish people they should be removed. When Jewish people can’t cross a road, something has to change.

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Josh Coupland is Digital and Communications Manager at the Centre for Policy Studies.