Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer tell Jewish community: We feel your pain this Pesach

The prime minister and Labour leader Keir Starmer both condemned terror and antisemitism in exclusive articles for the JC


Sunak and Sir Keir address the rising anxiety over antisemitism in Britain in their respective columns (Photo: Getty)

Extremist forces in Britain are threatening to “tear us apart” by exploiting the Gaza conflict to advance a “divisive, hateful ideological agenda”, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has said.

His comments come in a column for the JC to mark Passover. In this week’s historic edition, both the prime minister and Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer have written columns amid rising anxiety over antisemitism in Britain and concern over the Metropolitan Police’s handling of protests.

Sir Keir focused his Pesach message on the Middle East conflict, affirming a future Labour government’s commitment to Israel’s security in the face of the threat from Tehran while also renewing calls for a two-state solution.

Sir Keir – whose wife and three children are Jewish – said that like other families attending a Seder, “we mark this Passover under a dark cloud”.

While the prime minister addressed the Middle East conflict, hailing the RAF’s part in defending Israel from Iranian missiles and pledging Britain to Israel’s security, his most striking remarks were reserved for the growing tension in this country.

He accused extremists of exploiting “the very human angst that we all feel about the terrible suffering that war brings to the innocent to advance a divisive, hateful ideological agenda”.

He also condemned the police officer who threatened to arrest Campaign Against Antisemitism director Gideon Falter earlier this month because he appeared to be “openly Jewish” when he came across an anti-Israel protest march.

“I share your shock, and anger, that a police officer is telling people that being openly Jewish is provocative” Sunak wrote. “That’s wrong, unconscionable and goes against the multi faith, multi-ethnic democracy we are.”

Videos of the incident show Falter, wearing a kippah having just attended shul, being told that if he tried to cross the Aldwych in front of the marchers he would be arrested for breaching the peace. He was then surrounded by protesters who chanted he was “scum”, with the police taking no action.

Sunak said he had made clear to senior police officers that they must not “merely manage these protests but police them”, and following the Falter incident, “this government will be reinforcing this message to all our police forces, starting with the Met”.

However, he stopped short of saying he had lost confidence in Met Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley, who has been summoned to meet Home Office Ministers later this week.

At a press conference today, the PM offered Sir Mark lukewarm praise, saying he would continue to back him provided he “works to rebuild the confidence and trust of, not just the Jewish community, but the wider public, particularly people in London but more broadly. And you regain that trust… by making it clear that the police are not tolerating behaviour that we would all collectively deem unacceptable.”

Turning to the Middle East, Sunak said he had spoken to the RAF crew who shot down some of the Iranian drones and missiles fired against Israel earlier this month. He also repeated his call for a long-term “sustainable ceasefire” in Gaza as “the first step to setting the region onto a better path but that will require Hamas to no longer be in charge of Gaza and Israel’s security to be guaranteed.

Sir Keir pledged “to stand up for Israel’s security” and condemned “the Iranian regime’s reckless decision to subject Israelis to unacceptable attacks”.

“For anyone with family or friends in the region, this is an uncertain and worrying time,” he said. “They rightly wish for a secure future for their loved ones – with the security of knowing the horrors of October 7 cannot happen again. They rightly wish for the return of all hostages still being held, who are unable to celebrate Pesach with their families this year.”

But when the war is over and the hostages released, “we must look to how we can build a just and lasting peace out of the horrors of this war. This can only happen with a clear pathway to a two-state solution, where both Israelis and Palestinians can have security, justice, freedom and opportunity in their own lands”.

Both Sunak and Sir Keir wrote of their determination to protect and secure Britain’s Jewish community. Sunak pointed out that his government had announced it would provide the Community Security Trust with a grant worth £70 million over the next four years, while Sir Keir said a future Labour government would have “zero tolerance for antisemitism”, adding: “Antisemitism is a poison that must never be ignored or downplayed”.

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