Some of our new ‘friends’ are unwelcome and unhelpful to our cause

Especially with Israel under attack, we need to think beyond the immediate news cycle

December 14, 2023 12:21

There have been moments during the last nine weeks when it has felt very lonely to be Jewish. I could dedicate this entire column to instances of where Jews have been attacked, sidelined and intim in the UK, in Europe, in the US and, of course, in Israel. And yet the people and the leaders we expect to stand with us when antisemitism is on the rise… well, they don’t feel as present as they should be.

This is all the more true as further graphic details emerge of the October 7 pogrom, as we hear more first-hand accounts from survivors and witnesses and listen to the testimony of those who bore witness as they arrived at the scene of a massacre where innocent Jews were raped, tortured and murdered. Through the prism of this pain and this horror it is almost impossible to comprehend some people’s reactions. Some people are seeking to make political gains from our pain. And others call Jews liars and deny the facts in front of them.

I am sure that we have all had the same thoughts in the past nine weeks about who we can count on. Who are our friends and allies? Who has our backs? And where does this end? Is this our new normal and, if it is, what does safety look like for Jews anywhere?

As the images of death, war and devastation continue to emerge from Gaza and commentators and politicians focus on what is now happening rather than the events that led to war and the plight of the hostages, many in our community have discussed our dismay over who has failed to back Israel, who has criticised Hamas and who has claimed to be an ally and stated the right of Israel to defend itself — then made their next word “but”.

And for many of my friends, our new set of “allies” has also been a subject of deep conversation, as well as the opposite: the intense disappointment as some of our traditional friends have been found missing in action.

But — and it’s a big but — even (or rather especially) at a time when we feel under attack, both physically and metaphorically, we need to think beyond the immediate news cycle and remember our core values and who our friends really are.

One crisis shouldn’t change your politics or worldview. It shouldn’t make us turn away permanently from friends who have been a disappointment, although I know this is easier said than done.

I am an anti-fascist. I am an anti-racist. I am a proud Jew and a proud Brit. I wear my politics on my sleeve: I am a democratic socialist. These facts have shaped my life and will always shape my actions.

I have been sickened by the attempts of the far-right to use our grief and our pain as a vehicle to further their own bigotry and prejudice, standing beneath the symbols of our faith and using that platform to further their hate-filled propaganda.

These people are not our allies. They may like us today, but they will “other” us as soon as it’s expedient for them, as they always have.

I have spent my life fighting fascism on the streets of the UK and taking a stand against extremism. The horrors of October 7 have not changed my values. Far-right figures tweeting #IStandWithIsrael are not my allies. They are not our friends and they do not share our values.

Our new reality needs people to embrace knowledge, understanding and hope. The world seems to have reverted into camps inspired by a simplistic view of the world. Everything has seemed increasingly bleak. And political discourse is stark. Nuance has seemingly disappeared, but we need to reclaim it.

We need to remember that one vote doesn’t make an enemy. And one tweet doesn’t make a friend.

And those people who I consider friends who have called for a ceasefire, in good faith, are not our enemies, even if I disagree with them.

After this war has ended, and after Hamas is removed from the face of the Earth, those who share our values will be the people we work with to deliver peace. And those who sought to exploit our suffering will move on to the next issue and find another way to spread their poison.

In the meantime, the onus is on us to find a way through this bleak period in our history while holding onto our values and remembering who our friends really are.

To do this we need to find whatever glimmers of hope we can find and hold onto them. As the war continues and Chanukah ends and we move into 2024, it’s incredibly important that we hold onto the hope that even the light from a candle can give us in these darkest of times.

Right now we’ve never needed hope more — and that hope was perfectly demonstrated by the Chanukiah being used by the IDF in Sderot — a Chanunkiah made out of missiles targeting Israel. Weapons of war transformed into a symbol of our hope, providing light. From the darkness, small moments of light, of hope.

That’s what I am holding on to. That’s what I beg all of you to cherish as Chanukah becomes a memory.

December 14, 2023 12:21

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