I’m old enough to remember the IRA bomb attacks that hit London and other English cities with depressing frequency from the early 1970s until Tony Blair secured a ceasefire in July 1997, followed by the Belfast Agreement on Good Friday the following year. Of course, there were nuances and complexities to that conflict.
But only Republicans and the extremist hard left fringe that supported them ever suggested they were justified, or that the victims and their government had brought them on themselves. Two weeks after Hamas killed more than 1,400 Jews in Israel and took 200 hostages, there is little sign of the moral clarity of that earlier era in some quarters of this country now.
Today, Friday, I attended an online briefing given by the Metropolitan Police, at which Deputy Assistant Commissioner Ade Adelekan revealed two astonishing facts. The first was that this month, compared to the same period last year, antisemitic hate crimes officially recorded by police in London have soared by a staggering 1,350 per cent, from 15 in 2022 to 218 now.
The second has long been all too apparent - chanting the infamous slogan “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” is unlikely to lead to the arrest of those who do so. Jews know exactly what that chant means: it is a call for the annihilation of the Jewish state, as per the ambition set out by Hamas in its founding charter, and by the Iranian regime that supports, trains and funds the terror group. But DAC Adelakan, it appears, knows better. There is, he said, “dispute” over its meaning, and unless it was yelled at passing Jews or outside a synagogue or Jewish school, it was unlikely to lead to arrests.
Adelakan’s role as “gold commander”, responsible for public order on the streets of the capital in the wake of the Hamas attacks, means he is in charge of policing the huge “march for Palestine” set to take place in London this Saturday. As I report in this week’s JC, four of the six groups organising this event have or have had direct links with Hamas, including key figures who have visited Hamas leaders in Gaza. But his statement has real consequences: demonstrators will be able to bellow their desire to see Israel’s Jews driven into the sea as lustily as they wish, with complete impunity. The officer did say that some other chants might indeed still be considered as hate crimes.
But he didn’t specify which, and at last weekend’s protest, as video footage makes clear, the police stood by doing absolutely nothing while demonstrators chanted the still worse slogan that warns Jews - Jews, let us be clear, not only Jewish Israelis - that a Muslim army is on its way to re-enact the Battle of Khaybar, when thousands of us were massacred by forces led by Mohammed in Arabia in 638.
Meanwhile, Adelakan clearly hasn’t joined the dots between those two astonishing facts, and has apparently failed to spot that giving licence to annihilationist chanting against the victims of a terrorist pogrom can only encourage the commission of further hate crimes. Jews can be “othered”, blamed for causing their own misfortune, can become the object of chants that threaten further attacks, and all the Metropolitan Police will notice, to quote Adelakan, are issues that are “complex and difficult”.
The Met isn’t the only institution afflicted by this lack of clarity. Elsewhere, I report on the reaction of certain academics to the Hamas atrocities. One of them, Amira Abdelhamid of the University of Portsmouth, who stated openly on social media that she supported “Palestinian resistance in all its forms” and that the attacks were not terrorism but part of a “legitimate struggle”, is at least being investigated by her employer.
But others, who wrote articles describing them as the start of a bold “counteroffensive”, are not. According to Professor Gilbert Achar of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies, Hamas’s slaughter of civilians was “amazing”, evoking “the boldness of the biblical David against the giant Goliath”, and had dealt “a heavy blow to the unbearable haughtiness of the Israeli racist far-right government”.
And the reaction of his university? Its spokeswoman told me: “It is not the role of a university to sanction or silence members of our community where some may be offended by their views, provided they are not violating the law or breaching our institutional policies… Like all British universities we have a legal duty to protect freedom of speech.” (Achar, it should be noted, has insisted his blog article was “descriptive-factual and historical”, and that “any statement or imputation that I endorse Hamas or terrorism would be false and seriously defamatory”.)
It is some comfort that for now, at least, both PM Rishi Sunak and Labour leader Keir Starmer are both holding firm, although both may already be paying a political price. According to Times columnist Patrick Maguire, Starmer is facing criticism from some in his party, particularly in Muslim areas, for apparently stating in an LBC interview that Israel was justified in putting Gaza under siege after the atrocities. Next week, the government is set to bring its Bill outlawing BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) campaigns against Israel by public bodies back to Parliament - and, say Westminster sources, is coming under pressure from some Tory MPs to water it down.
But overall, the picture is bleak. I always knew that once Israel began to respond to the attacks, the thrust of much public discourse would shift from sympathy for Hamas’s victims to criticism of the state in which they lived. But I didn’t think it would happen quite so quickly, and on such a scale. Batten down the hatches. There may be much worse yet to come.