‘From our community to Israel — your fight is our fight.’ 4000 tune in for emergency communal briefing

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‘From our community to Israel — your fight is our fight.’ 4000 tune in for emergency communal briefing

JLC, UJIA, Board of Deputies, CST, IDF and BICOM convene live on air to update the community on how they are responding to the crisis in Israel

Jenni Frazer is a freelance journalist

More than 4,000 people tuned in to watch a special emergency communal briefing on Sunday night, convened by the Jewish Leadership Council, the Board of Deputies, Bicom, UJIA, and the CST.

Together with an updated briefing by the British-born former IDF spokesman, Lt-Col Peter Lerner, back in uniform once again to convey Israel’s story to the world’s media, each of the community organisations spoke about how they are responding to the crisis in Israel.

Marie van der Zyl, president of the Board of Deputies, opened the briefing and said that people had been “rightly outraged” at the continuing determination of the BBC not to call Hamas terrorists. As the national broadcaster, she said, “they need to set an example”.

Claudia Mendoza of the Jewish Leadership Council stated things bluntly: “This is a war against the Jewish people”, she said. But she, like Mark Gardner of the CST, had a central message for the Jewish community: “Please engage responsibly”.

This meant making sure that claims of attacks in Israel or the UK should be carefully verified before they were shared more widely. Mark Gardner gave several examples of “fake news” such as the apparent antisemitic attack on a kosher restaurant in Golders Green, which was in fact a burglary, or a knife-wielding individual in the same area — there was no knife, Gardner said, and the person had mental health issues which were nothing to do with Israel.

The CST chief executive said his organisation would not have advised that schools should close or that people should hide their Jewish identities. But, he said “this is not another cycle of violence in the Middle East, this is war”, and he outlined the high level of co-operation and support from police and government at the most senior levels.

He said that arrests were being made which would not have been the case only two weeks ago, and revealed that three counter-terrorism officers had been stationed at CST headquarters all week in order to act immediately on information relating to antisemitic attacks.

And he warned: “Please don’t make it worse — the purpose of terrorism is to spread fear, so please be responsible”

Giving a real-time assessment of the situation in Israel, Lt-Col Lerner was brutally realistic about Israel’s failures. “The stark reality is that Israel failed the people of southern Israel in its inability to identify prior to the attack what Hamas was planning,” he said, citing a failure in intelligence, a problem with the Gaza barrier “which did not prevent infiltration into Israel, and the last line of defence, our troops on the ground itself, who were taking cover because of the rockets [being fired from Gaza]”.

Lt-Col Lerner said there were “many stories of immense bravery” still being told and that while the IDF had begun to regain control in the south, there were still pockets of Hamas resistance in an ongoing operation.

Richard Pater, director of Bicom, based in Israel, said it was important to keep the hostage story at the top of the media agenda.

UJIA’s chief executive, Mandie Winston, said that the charity’s first step on October 7 was to ensure the safety of the 377 young adults taking part in long-term programmes in Israel, and, where necessary, move them to other locations in the country.

She reported that UJIA had been sending money on a daily basis to the Jewish Agency’s Victims of Terror fund. Acknowledging that many people had asked to volunteer, she said there were “very limited opportunities” in that regard, but that doctors, nurses or paramedics could register with the Israeli Ministry of Health to see if they were needed.

However, Ms Winston said, there was no point in gathering supplies to send to Israel. This issue was being dealt with on the ground in Israel and she asked the community not to make collections of goods, but to donate money instead. Her colleague Emily Pater from UJIA Israel thanked UK Jews for their ongoing support.

Keith Black, chair of the JLC, paid tribute to the politicians, police and civic authorities who had offered their support and help. There was, he said, “one message from our community to Israel — your fight is our fight. You are not alone”.

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