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Why we must support our Jewish friends

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NO DOUBT about it, this has been a troubling few weeks for any British friend of Israel. Specifically, it has been deeply upsetting for our Jewish community which has seen so much that attracted their parents and grandparents to this country – safety, rule of law, inviolable Parliamentary democracy, impartial judiciary, policing without fear or favour – seemingly tossed aside like a Kleenex to appease a belligerent, anti-Semitic minority.

 I often think of the words of the late, great Jonathan Sacks who called Britain ‘the kind country’. I wonder what Chief Rabbi Sacks would make of jihadist slogans being projected on to Big Ben as they were the other night after an infamous day in Parliament when the Commons Speaker, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, broke with precedent to allow a Labour amendment on a ceasefire in Gaza which, he claimed, was for the safety of MPs who had received terrorist threats?

Sir Keir Starmer who, until a week ago, had admirably held firm in his party’s support for Israel’s right to defend herself, hotly denied allegations that he had leant on the Speaker in order to avoid another embarrassing rebellion on the issue by Labour MPs. Whatever the precise details, the desire to avoid headlines about ‘Labour splits’ in the run-up to a general election seems to have weighed as heavily with the Opposition as the duty of elected officials not to trash constitutional norms to keep an increasingly influential Muslim vote onside.

At a stroke, the tacit Faustian pact certain Labour MPs have made with Islamist elements in their constituencies was rudely exposed to a startled public. To borrow from the Bible via Woody Allen, ‘and the lion will lie down with the lamb, but the lamb will not get much sleep.” 

The silence of the Labour lambs has been deafening and maybe, just maybe, they will now wake up to the cost of the UK turning a blind eye to hatred of Western values in general, and of Jews in particular.   

Many of us will have agreed with the former Attorney General and basso profundo Sir Geoffrey Cox, who told Newsnight that Sir Lindsay’s action, however well-meaning, was ‘a weak, abject surrender to tyranny and intolerance’. What message does it send throughout the world? boomed Sir Geoffrey. More pressingly, perhaps, what message does it send to Rochdale and Bradford and Luton where imams have quietly been chalking up victories against a political class that is terrified of being accused of Islamophobia, especially when an Islamist madman has just murdered one of their own.     

Almost daily, there are shocks like these to absorb. Like the man in Hyde Park who was removed last weekend by Metropolitan Police for the crime of carrying a placard saying ‘Hamas are Terrorists’, not a particularly contentious statement, you might think, unless you’re a BBC or Sky journalist. In fact, at British Friends of Israel, we are campaigning for the media to call Hamas terrorists. 

That was in stark contrast to the treatment of Pro-Palestine supporters who, on their fortnightly hate marches through the capital, have rarely been arrested despite waving posters showing Jews being put in a bin and calling for Intifada. Although, to be fair, the Met have employed ‘experts’ with jihadist connections who have explained that Intifada is a little-known form of Arabic flower-arranging, not a call for the extermination of the Jews as was previously thought. 

Three women who were arrested and charged barely seven days after October 7 for displaying images glorifying Hamas – chilling cartoons of the paragliders that came over from Gaza to wreak carnage at the Nova peace festival – were let off with a slap on the wrist. Deputy Senior District Judge Tanweer Ikram said that, although the trio were guilty of a terrorist offence, he had decided not to punish them because he didn’t think they were Hamas supporters and, besides, ‘feelings were running high’. It was disturbing, although perhaps not altogether surprising, to learn subsequently that, only a few weeks before,  the judge had liked a LinkedIn post which called for a ‘free Palestine’ and spoke of ‘Israeli terrorist[s]’. Mr Ikram explained that was ‘a genuine mistake’, an explanation not altogether reassuring to British Jews and their allies.

Recently, when I expressed my dismay on X (formerly Twitter) about a rabbi, a chaplain at Leeds University, being moved to a safe location after he received threats to kill him, rape his wife and murder his children, several of the comments suggested I should be mindful of ‘the context’. What context, I replied, could ever make it acceptable to murder anyone, let alone women and children? The context, I was told, was that the rabbi in question was a former reservist chaplain in the IDF which was carrying out ‘genocide’ in Gaza. You could almost hear their gleeful ‘Gotcha!’

Once again, I started drafting a reply to the pro-Palestinians, explaining that military service is compulsory for all Israelis who can be called upon to serve until the age of 40. But I never posted it. What’s the point? Being dragged into that kind of ‘whataboutery’ with people who call for evidence that the half-naked, charred corpses of Israeli young women, murdered by Hamas on October 7, were actually raped is demeaning, demoralising and ultimately futile. They don’t want to know.   

Perhaps I, too, am blinkered. Blinded by my belief that Israel, whatever the deficiencies of her current leadership or the awful collateral damage to civilians in Gaza, must persist, must be allowed to exist because she is in the unenviable, yet essential, business of holding the line for civilisation against barbarism.

As British Friends of Israel, we have never sought to give the Netanyahu government a blank cheque in any action taken after the heinous massacres four months ago, and many of us will, I think, draw the line at an all-out assault on Rafah while more than a million displaced souls shelter there. As a mother, I think what must it be like trying to reassure your small children during the nightly bombardment. Sympathy must flow both ways if we are to hold on to our humanity.  

We would also point out, however, as the media seldom does, that Hamas remorselessly exploits the deaths of innocent women and children to shore up its diabolical project, shamelessly exaggerating the death toll whilst its senior leaders hide in an extensive network of tunnels paid for out of billions of foreign aid which was donated to ordinary Gazans. Indeed, Hamas seems to be complicit in murders which it happily attributes to Israeli forces that are trying, as no invading army has ever tried before, to minimise casualties. Although they are among the worst men in the world, you have to admit Hamas are damn good at propaganda: the Devil has the best PR. Tragically, they are winning the battle for hearts and minds, particularly among the impressionable young in the West.  

Here in Britain, we see more clearly each week how the miserable failure by the Met to properly police the pro-Palestinian marches, allegedly to contain community tensions, has had the opposite effect. Looking the other way as open displays of anti-Semitic bile are flaunted on the streets of the capital has merely emboldened the Islamist mob who are now openly threatening MPs who fail to do their bidding. Mike Freer, Conservative MP for Finchley and Golders Green, announced he was standing down after he and his partner received death threats from several Islamist groups including Muslims Against Crusades. Democracy rocks on its foundations when a popular MP quits his seat in fear. 

As former Home Secretary Suella Braverman wrote in last Thursday’s Telegraph, ‘Islamists are bullying Britain into submission.’ It’s not just about the safety of MPs: British values and freedoms are under attack in courts, universities, on TV, at by-elections and on the streets where, to all our shame, many Jews now fear to tread.

I know that all the the above should make us feel bleak and a little scared, but instead the moment calls for defiance and courage, wherever we may find it, in each other most of all. ‘We have harboured those who hated us, tolerated those who threatened us and indulged those who weakened us.’ The words of Margaret Thatcher who, ironically, once held Mike Freer’s north London seat, resonate more than ever as our leaders are finally forced to grapple with what craven capitulation to extremist anti-Semites (and misogynists and homophobes) actually means. 

Are we really going to let one of the most successfully integrated, most productive, most precious and patriotic immigrant groups in British history be driven from these shores? Not on your nelly, to use a popular indigenous phrase. 

In October 1984, hours after the IRA bombed the Conservative Party Conference at the Grand Hotel in Brighton, Mrs Thatcher dusted herself down and declared ‘business as usual’. Whatever you think of her, after five deaths and with a member of her Cabinet gravely injured in hospital, the Iron Lady must have been shaken. But she knew the line had to be held. As it does today. If the Jews are terrorised into leaving Britain, it won’t be Britain any more. The values and institutions that called so many to ‘the kind country’ Rabbi Sacks adored will mean nothing. So, as British Friends of Israel, we persist. We insist it cannot be so. British Jews must stay in our mutual home. Please, stay.  

Please sign The October Declaration to show you support British Jews and oppose antisemitism.

This article appeared in The October Declaration on February 23, 2024, and is republished by kind permission

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Allison Pearson
Allison Pearson
Allison Pearson is a Telegraph columnist.

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