A fortnight ago, as the IDF ground offensive against Hamas in Gaza swung into action and on the back of the tsunami of hate the UK Jewish community was witnessing and experiencing from supporters of the Palestinian cause, I wrote an article about how I feared for my grandchildren’s future in the UK.
When I cast my mind back to how I felt then, I remember being surprised and angry at my emotions. Surprised because I have never been one to question our Jewish community’s place here in the UK (even during the Corbyn years) and angry because I felt the overt and visceral Jew hate I was witnessing on the streets and social media was being ignored by most ordinary Brits, being played down by many in the mainstream media and going unpunished by our police. I was also angry because my wife told me she was scared to wear her Hebrew necklace and that my young grandchildren where being taught how to lie under desks in their Jewish school in case of a terrorist attack. Is this what the UK had come to for the Jewish community in 2023?
But then something happened that restored a large part of my faith in my fellow British citizens.
Under the auspices of North West Friends of Israel (which I co-chair) we arranged to set up a red balloon and shoe installation to highlight the plight of the 240 hostages held by Hamas in the heart of Manchester’s city centre on a busy Saturday afternoon.
Manned by around 15 dedicated volunteers we watched hundreds of Mancunians – individuals, couples, families and groups of all ages and ethnicities – take the time to look at individual hostage flyers and internalise the fate of these babies, children, women, and men.
We approached them, we explained the humanitarian focus of the event and handed them flyers of hostages with a specific ask to use a QR code and email their MP demanding the release of these innocent people from Hamas captivity. Over the course of five hours, we spoke to over 500 people.
Overwhelmingly, they were supportive of our campaign to have all hostages released immediately without preconditions and of Israel’s right to defend itself in the face of Hamas’s barbaric, genocidal attack on it. It was heartwarming to witness, and we all left feeling encouraged and uplifted.
This experience is further confirmed by polling carried out by both the Times and the Jewish Leadership Council that shows that the majority of British people support Israel’s right to self defence and see Hamas as a terrorist organisation.
That is not to say at all that we do not still have a problem here and now in the UK – and will have an even greater one in 20 years’ time.
Whilst we were manning our peaceful vigil the pro-Palestinian protest was marching some 200 metres away from us. I went to watch and the raw hatred to the Jewish state of Israel was there for all to see. Chants of “from the river to the sea” and “intifada now” when witnessed close up as a Jewish person are incredibly chilling.
Seeing thousands of my fellow citizens standing mere metres away from me and calling for the destruction of the only Jewish state and the genocide of its Jewish population – which includes my mother, sister, and many other family members – whilst the police stand by and do nothing makes a Jewish person think of history.
How can it not? It is these marches, the hatred they spew and the violence they encourage that still mean the majority of UK Jews are nervous and scared, fearful of revealing they are Jewish and making considered choices about where they travel, eat and shop.
The polling also shows that amongst 18- 34-year-olds, the hatred towards Israel and the support for Hamas is highest and that most of these people rely on the cesspit and fake news of social media for their information. These young people will be our country’s leaders, academics and teachers in two generations and that is what still makes me scared for our community’s future in the UK.
This is a problem that we, as a community, need to tackle urgently. Gathering middle aged Jewish audiences together to entreat them to do more for Israel, when most of them only operate in the echo chamber of Facebook, might seem like a good idea and make people feel better, but it will have zero effect on shaping and affecting our future. It needs urgent attention now from those that understand it. We have been warned.
But for now, the silent majority have given me hope that despite the torrent of hate we see in the bubble of social media and at the weekly pro-Palestinian marches British Jews – and Israel – have, for now, the support they deserve and need.
- Raphi Bloom is director of fundraising, marketing & communications for The FED, the largest Jewish social care charity in Manchester
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