Prime Minister Rishi Sunak made an unexpected and impassioned appearance at Sunday night’s community briefing, held online to brief British Jews about the latest stages in the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas.
Introduced by Bard of Deputies president Marie van der Zyl, Mr Sunak said that last weekend in Jerusalem he had met families of the victims of what he called “an abhorrent act, an act of terrorism, an act of pure evil. It is a moment that will stay with me for the rest of my life”.
Reiterating his pledge “to do everything I can to secure the release of all the hostages”, the prime minister added: “We will always support Israel against terror… it must be defeated”. But he noted: “The Palestinian people are also victims of Hamas, and they are suffering terribly.”
Speaking about the situation in the UK, Mr Sunak said: “It sickens me to think that British Jews are looking over their shoulder in this country, that children are going to school covering up their school badges for fear of attack.
“The antisemitic demonstrations and call for jihad are not only a threat to our Jewish community, but to our democratic values, and we will not stand for it.
“Not here, not in our country, not in this century. A threat to you is a threat to all of us, and I will do whatever it takes to keep you safe.”
He added: “When I said I will stand with you, I meant it. And however difficult the days ahead may become, I will keep that promise.”
Jonathan Conricus, an IDF spokesman, recorded his contribution to the briefing in the early hours of last Friday morning, and pulled no punches in his assessment of the situation, telling the community that Israel was “far from achieving our end goal, which is to dismantle Hamas”. The country was fighting on at least two fronts, he said, but the main theatre of operations was in the south, where the IDF continued to attack Hamas “while distinguishing between civilian and military targets”.
Current figures said that there were 224 hostages being held in Gaza and it was a continuing aim to return them to their homes and families, Conricus said.
There was “no other choice” for Israel “but to beat and defeat Hamas”, he said. Those living in what was known as the Gaza envelope, “all of these beautiful, peaceful communities that once were home to peace-loving Israelis, who believed in their hearts of a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and who had Arab friends, who went to demonstrations in Israel, promoting political solutions with the Palestinians, and who really criticised previous government for their actions — many of these people now are either dead or are captive, hostage at the hands of Hamas”.
Such communities, Conricus said, “will not flourish again… until we return security, and we will.”
The spokesman was scathing about “the strangling and suffering and suffocating of the population in Gaza, which they [Hamas] are responsible for”. Hamas was not allowing the civilian population access “to the vast stores of fuel, food and water that Hamas has, and are being used for their military [personnel]”.
He poured scorn on claims that Gaza hospitals were running out of electricity which had been made 11 days previously and continued to be made. “Most importantly, the address for such claims should be Hamas, not Israel… Hamas is hoarding fuel. There is fuel in Gaza, and they decide what to do with it”.
Conricus added that Israel was “troubled” by the rise in antisemitism in Britain since Hamas’s attacks. He hoped that British Jews “will find it within you to be brave, strong, unrelenting and be able to stand up against the masses of thinly-veiled Israel haters and Jew haters who claim to be speaking about the rights of Palestinians and political solutions.
“That is all nonsense. None of this is about Palestinian rights or the end to a conflict. This is about a terrorist organisation that invaded our communities, butchered more than 1,000 Israeli civilians in their homes on purpose, by design, and also went on to take more than 224 hostages.
“That is what this is about, nothing else and please don’t get confused about it.”
Community Security Trust chief executive Mark Gardner said that CST had been working with ministers and police to “improve the handling of anti-Israel demonstrations” in Britain.
He said police support for Jewish neighbourhoods had been “excellent” since October 7, with increased police presence at schools and at transport hubs used by Jewish children.
Gardner said there was a counter-terrorism officer based with CST and two officers situated in its control centre, allowing for immediate responses to reports of antisemitism or suspicious behaviour.
In Manchester, he said there were six officers dedicated to receiving reports about antisemitic activity from CST and the wider community.
“Antisemitic incidents are very high right now,” he said.
“In these last three weeks we’ve recorded the same number of antisemitic incidents as we did in the first six months of the year. That is approximately 800 incidents.”
Three more community leaders went online to brief those watching. Louise Jacobs, UJIA chair, used her slot to speak to Shani Teshuva from Kibbutz Zikkim, who had survived the terrorist attacks, while Michael Wegier of the Board of Deputies announced guides — viewable on the Board and JLC websites — for helping people who had problems with their work colleagues over the conflict. And UJS president Edward Isaacs updated viewers on the situation on campus and what UJS is doing to ensure Jewish student safety,
JLC chair Keith Black paid tribute to all the professionals in the community for their round-the-clock work.
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