Ian Austin

Join me as I set aside my pessimism for 2024

This has been the most difficult year in living memory for Jews but there is still light in the darkness


US President Joe Biden with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Photo: Getty)

December 21, 2023 15:13

This has been a grim year for Israel, its supporters and the Jewish community. More Jews killed on one day than on any day since the Holocaust. A huge increase in antisemitism. Anti-Israel obsessives taking over the streets. But most shocking of all for me has been listening to Jewish parents talking about racism their kids face in the classroom or on campus and having to cover up religious symbols or clothing on the way to school.

This is the festive season, however, and the editor wanted me to set aside my usual pessimism and look for reasons to be cheerful. So here you go:

1. Israel is on the way to defeating Hamas, which could be the catalyst for change in the Middle East. All wars are awful and every civilian casualty a tragedy, but destroying an Islamist death cult committed not just to Israel’s destruction but the murder of Jews everywhere is a prerequisite for any peace process and longer-term solution to the conflict.

2. President Biden continues to support Israel. The US voted against a ceasefire at the UN and transferred 14,000 tank shells to Israel without congressional approval.

3. The UK is also backing Israel. Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron called for a “sustainable ceasefire” in future but spelt out the UK’s continued support for Israel’s campaign to “remove the threat of Hamas” and rescue the hostages.

4. Credit where it’s due to Keir Starmer as well. The Labour leader reinforced his credentials to become prime minister by showing robust and determined leadership in facing down not just the hard left, but sacking members of his frontbench team who voted for a ceasefire.

5.A big thank you to Michael Rubin and Labour Friends of Israel who have the toughest job in pro-Israel advocacy and deserve great credit for transforming Labour’s position on Israel from the dark days of Corbyn back to the party’s traditional support for the Jewish state.

6. JLC research shows most of the public support Israel. One in five sympathise more with the Palestinians than with Israel, but almost ten times as many sympathise with Israel more than Hamas. Twice as many say the attacks were simply to murder Jews than say they were about defending Palestinians.

7. We saw proof of that at the extraordinary March Against Antisemitism. It was fantastic to see 105,000 people from all walks of life come together to campaign against anti-Jewish racism.

8. Domestically, the Jewish community is a huge success, making an enormous contribution to every aspect of British life. It is strong and resilient and supported by hundreds of brilliant community organisations doing superb work. The Chief Rabbi has provided phenomenal leadership and guidance to leading figures in the UK in very testing times.

9. The BBC’s warped coverage of the conflict and Jeremy Bowen’s arrogant refusal even to apologise for his misreporting would test the patience of a saint, but the BBC’s new chairman Samir Shah looks determined to get a grip.

10. There is an army of Jewish campaigners and their non-Jewish allies who bravely take on antisemites on social media day in and day out, a thankless and soul-destroying task.

Particular shout-outs as well this year:

11. At the Community Security Trust, Gerald Ronson, Mark Gardner and their colleagues have built the world’s most successful communal security organisation. Their work to protect the Jewish community has never been more vital.

12. Claudia Mendoza and her colleagues at the JLC work tirelessly trying to bring the Jewish community together, providing leadership and resources to organisations large and small.

13. Karen Pollock and the Holocaust Educational Trust work all year round teaching the UK about the Holocaust and antisemitism. This is more important this year than ever, but she has also been one of the community’s most prominent spokespeople since October 7.

14. Gideon Falter and his volunteers at the Campaign Against Antisemitism were the driving force behind November’s incredible march and other imaginative campaigns, such as driving ad vans with pictures of hostages around central London.

15. Richard Pater and the team at Bicom working round the clock to put Israel’s case in the UK media

16. Organisations such as UJS, Stand With Us, UJIA and AJR do crucial work fighting antisemitism, teaching young people about Israel and caring for elderly refugees.

Most of all, this is a great country. The vast majority of British people are decent and reasonable. As we saw with the decisive rejection of Jeremy Corbyn four years ago, Brits have no time for those who call Hamas their “friends”. They are disgusted by racism, extremism and terrorism.

Most people are instinctively on the side of Britain’s Jewish community and this is the biggest reason of all to be cheerful over the New Year.

Lord Austin is a former Labour MP and a life peer

December 21, 2023 15:13

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