October 7 witnessed a barbaric invasion of Israel, and in its wake, an antisemitic assault on Jews throughout the diaspora has been unleashed.
Logic is inverted. We now live in a world where evil rapists are described as militants, where a war of self-defence is called a genocide, where innocent hostages are compared to pre-trial or convicted criminals and where hundreds of thousands of people call for a ceasefire in support of a terrorist group who had initially broken the ceasefire.
And these perverted narratives are not simply projected through those on one side of the conflict; they have become part of mainstream thinking, part of the academic, cultural and media conversation and are massively amplified and further distorted over social media.
The reverberations across our community are substantial. Some I know are concealing their Judaism, and many people are grappling with strained and severed ties with non-community members, taken aback by insensitive reactions or troubling remarks.
It is our nature to be fearful during times like these. In our nightmares, we hear the thundering hooves of the Cossacks and see the goose-stepping marches of the Nazis. “Are we safe?” I am asked. My response is always the same: “Yes, we are, but we can’t take anything for granted.”
Our community is well looked after by government. Politicians from all sides understand and are deeply sympathetic to how we feel, and whilst democracies are cumbersome and slow to react, our conversations at the highest levels have been immensely supportive. We have also been polling the general population to see how people feel about the conflict. Encouragingly, most people understand that Israel cannot live with a terrorist group like Hamas on its border. Of course, they — as are we in the Jewish community — are also concerned about the rising level of deaths in Gaza. Critically, it is clear that the vast majority polled abhor antisemitism.
Community organisations and our professional teams have been working round the clock for two months now. We have organised and coordinated rallies, vigils and marches; we have held briefings, webinars and town hall events. We have worked with government, been on the airwaves, written articles and met countless politicians, from backbenchers to frontbenchers. We have seen wonderful fundraising drives for a host of charities, and we have reached out to allies wherever possible.
Our organisational work is only the tip of the iceberg. Our community is alive with activity. New volunteers are invigorating our communal organisations with fresh ideas and launching numerous independent projects. It is our superpower in action, a creative and imaginative “can do” way of life that has sustained Jewish communities over three millennia.
The JLC, together with other communal organisations, is helping to coordinate much of this activity. The crisis reveals areas for improvements in our response capabilities. We know mainstream and social media is a major challenge; we are unable to deal with the flood of antisemitic rhetoric on our screens. For decades, academia has turned its back on Israel, having decided this is a binary conflict with only one good side. The years of interfaith work have left us wanting, and there is a broader need to engage with and educate our youth about the complex history of the region and what it means to have a Jewish state.
We are blessed to have a community brimming with energy, resilience and determination. We must harness this and find the battles we can win or make a difference to. We need to engage with funders and activists and ultimately ensure that Jewish life in the United Kingdom emerges from this crisis strengthened and confident in its future.
Keith Black is chair of the JLC