OPINION: Now we need a declaration to protect us

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OPINION: Now we need a declaration to protect us

Support in the fight against antisemitism from the newly formed British Friends of Israel is reassuring but the fact that we need it is deeply distressing, writes Jewish News' Brigit Grant

Brigit Grant is the Jewish News Supplements Editor

'Britain has been a safe home for Jews for hundreds of years. What have we become?' asks Laura Dodsworth
'Britain has been a safe home for Jews for hundreds of years. What have we become?' asks Laura Dodsworth

A letter was released on Monday that condemns the rise of antisemitism and supports British Jews. It now has more than 28,000 signatures and that number continues to rise, but I imagine the many additional names belong to those in our community as the link was circulated to all.

Titled the October Declaration, the statement had already been signed by leading British public figures including Sir Tom Stoppard, the broadcaster and journalist Andrew Neil, the former Labour foreign secretary Lord David Owen and Professor Richard Dawkins

Among the elite group, only Sir Tom and JK Rowling’s agent Neil Blair are of the faith, which is reassuring, because it means that the members of the House of Lords, MPs and celebrated historians who signed first did so because they felt it was the morally right thing to do. They believe, without too much prompting, that there is a “need for the British Jewish community to remain safe from fear, and to retain full access to facilities such as schools and businesses, irrespective of actions taken by the State of Israel to defend itself”.

That’s what the October Declaration says, and we have good reason to thank Laura Dodsworth, the journalist and author who initiated it and then joined forces with the Telegraph columnist Allison Pearson and writer Toby Young along with others to set up British Friends of Israel. The name sounded so familiar; I googled to check it didn’t already exist.

That it exists now is because of the tidal wave of anti-Jewish feeling that has swept over our community since the atrocities in Israel slipped down the hierarchy of horror in the Middle East. It took barely 48 hours for the collective attention to be diverted. Not long enough to learn the names of the murdered, raped, tortured and kidnapped, let alone spell them correctly.

Brigit Grant, Jewish News

But in that time, the retaliatory strikes on Gaza sounded a signal in the Diaspora. The signal to march and rage, and not just at Israel; but at Jews everywhere. Laura Dodsworth was shocked. She is not Jewish; and raw, intimidating antisemitism is something she had read about, but never witnessed. “There were chants of  ‘death to Israel’ and ‘gas the Jews’ before the bodies had even been counted,”she says. “Since then, antisemitism has skyrocketed in Britain, which has been a safe home for Jews for hundreds of years. What have we become? Frankly, it has sickened me.”

It sickens us too. It feels us with fear in a way we never could have imagined, because as Laura rightly points out, we have lived here for a very long time and feel part of the green and pleasant land

Generations of Jews have built this country, fought for it with pride and curtailed the ambitions of fascists with fervour. Yet today concern about our safety had to be highlighted by a corps of caring people who have been hounded on social media since they reached out to us.

“I just felt had to do it,” said Laura who fittingly wrote the book A State of Fear, which coincidentally is not about us. “This is the time to stand in solidarity with British Jews.”

Alison Pearson launched the Declaration in her Telegraph column, writing:

“I was disgusted by the speed with which the media narrative moved on from shock at the savagery with which Hamas thugs slaughtered 1,400 Israelis, many of them youngsters and elderly people, to concern about the destruction in Gaza. The latter is horrible, undoubtedly, but it is not in the same league of depravity as going into a kibbutz, tying the hands of children behind their backs, throwing them on a pile and setting fire to them.”

It isn’t and she echoed sentiments expressed in many Jewish homes. But in these same homes, there is solicitude and tears for the Palestinians in Gaza. There are Jewish people who have longed for a two-state solution and harboured dreams of peace for both in their lifetime.

Holding on to those dreams after the nightmares of October 7 requires the kind of belief that we, as a people will struggle to muster. The notion of ‘if not now, when?’ has taken a back seat

We struggle because we are still processing what happened and what continues to happen. We struggle to accept that more uniformed young men and women in Israel might never grow old.

We struggle here because the hate is tangible and even famous people we know and like from TV, movies or the political stage failed to consider our feelings.

They thought it was ok to write an open letter as Artists for Palestine UK, and not mention any of the atrocities carried out by Hamas.

Clearly Steve Coogan who took the lead on this letter had a crisis of conscience, and thought ‘A-ha, Hamas’ hence his Postscript acknowledgement on Twitter. But only one other, the Outlander star Sam Heughan followed suit, out of 4,000 signatories.

I have been assured the October Declaration was not created in retaliation and I believe that. The people involved are not petty minded and have shown support so fulsomely, they deserve our thanks.

The large number of signatories, whoever they may be, is a heartening reminder that other British people do care about our welfare. The launch of the October Declaration has made waves, but it also because it coincided with the IDF screening footage that was found on the bodycams of the Hamas terrorists

The IDF realised this had to happen and one would think – no, pray – that 100 international journalists witnessing the graphic horror subjected on unarmed innocent people, babies and Holocaust survivors would make a global impact. That weeping reporters revealing what they saw would sway the hearts and minds of the indifferent and the deniers. Tragically the content of the messages posted under the shocking reports reveals that some are beyond accepting the evil truth.

Laura Dodsworth clings to the truth and with the newly_created British Friends of Israel continues to monitor signatures on the Declaration. She also holds the view that “a big contributor to the problem British Jews face must be our national broadcaster refusing to call Hamas what it is in law and fact: a terrorist organisation. It has been dragged kicking and screaming to use the word terrorist, all the while fuelling strife and insulting the dead and bereaved.”

At the end of her column Allison Pearson asked: “If you would like to show support for our Jewish brothers and sisters, for whom this country, their country, our country, is no longer a place of safety, please go to britishfriendsofisrael.org and sign the October Declaration. Many have and more will, for which we are grateful. Accepting it has come to this is the truth I struggle to believe.”

  • Brigit Grant is executive editor for Jewish News features and for Life magazine
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