Of all the responses to the October 7 massacre, one of the most contemptible in Britain is that of “Steady on, chaps. Don’t overreact.” This attitude has come from a whole slew of commentators across the British press. My colleague at the Spectator, Matthew Parris, took to the pages of the magazine last week to claim that the aftermath of the biggest slaughter of Jews since the Holocaust is the ideal time to “dial down” any anger one feels. Suggesting he feels little, if any, himself.
In The Times, Hugo Rifkind this week expressed concern that reactions to the antisemitism on display at the “pro-Palestine” marches might lead to more antisemitism. Which, like the conclusion Parris comes to, means that when Jews are slaughtered the best thing to do is just sit it out, be quiet, and wait for the next one. Because it wouldn’t do to have too strong a response now, would it?
I’m genuinely baffled that so many people are agonising at a time when the situation before us all — Jews and non-Jews — could hardly be clearer. As I am in Israel at the moment, I witness the situation with even more clarity.
Nothing could surpass the barbarism of what Hamas did that day. I have seen and covered many conflicts in my life, but I have never seen anything quite like this.
As I said after watching at the Israeli embassy the other day the unedited footage of the massacre, this is one occasion when saying that some people are worse than the Nazis is not hyperbole.
Average members of the SS and other killing units of Hitler’s were rarely proud of their average days’ work. Very few felt that shooting Jews in the back of the head all day and kicking their bodies into pits was where their own lives had meant to end up.
Many spent their evenings getting blind drunk to try to forget. Nazi commanders had to worry about staff “morale”. When the war ended, the Nazis tried to pretend that Treblinka and other death camps never existed.
Compare this with the behaviour of Hamas on October 7. As those of us who have viewed the raw footage from the day have seen and heard for ourselves, these terrorists were not just pleased with what they were doing. They were elated. They spent the whole time screaming “Allahu Akbar” with delight. As they decapitated bodies and shot terrified civilians, they were grinning, congratulating each other and seeking acclaim from others.
In one call which the Israelis captured and played, a young Hamas terrorist called back to Gaza to boast to his parents that he, their son, had killed ten Jews “with my own hands”. He was ecstatic with joy. And desperate that his father and then his mother would give him their praise he desired. They did. Their boy had turned out good.
Ordinarily this would be a moment for the civilised world to back Israel and back the destruction of Hamas. Not simply because the civilised world should seek revenge, but because it is clear that the world cannot live with a group whose leadership has boasted that they will carry out October 7 massacres until there are no Jews left. With this there seems absolutely no place for compromise.
And yet in our own country, there have been those who from the beginning have insisted that this very straightforward question is either unutterably complex or a time to show restraint.
While some of us have noted with alarm the chants of “jihad” on our streets, the cries for “intifada” on our trains, and calls for “Muslim armies” to arise in Britain, others have urged that we should calm it down. As though it is the Jews and others who notice these things who are somehow inflaming tensions.
The Home Secretary, Suella Braverman, has come under more criticism for describing the anti-Israel marches as “hate marches” than almost anyone (let alone any opposition politician) has shown against the marches themselves.
As people occupy train stations and assault Jews in the streets of our cities, there are those like a senior editor at the Sunday Times, Josh Glancy, who have described being Jewish in our capital city during a march as “absolutely fine”. It is a “challenging and difficult situation” he acknowledges, but “hyperbole” he insists — lecturing an online activist — “helps no one.”
Surveying this “calm down, chaps” manner, you wonder what it would take to wake up such people. Perhaps the massacre of every Jew in Israel? But turn this around another way. Can you imagine any other group in the world who would be treated like this? Who, when their families and co-religionists are murdered, are not the subjects of sympathy but are rather themselves then the target of assault and threat? In what other situation do the victims and their coreligionists have to watch their backs while the perpetrators, their friends and supporters march boldly through our own streets, screaming at the police and generally behaving as if they own them?
In the 1930s, a different generation of British Jews had the guts to say to a different generation of antisemites, “they shall not pass”.
Can this generation summon up the same resilience? It has to. For all our sakes.
Douglas Murray is associate editor of the Spectator.
A reference to poppy sellers being attacked has been removed, after the British Transport Police confirmed after publication that they did not consider there was a risk to poppy sellers.