The Prime Minister has called out those who refuse to describe Hamas as “terrorists”.
Addressing a crowd of nearly 1,700 people at a prayer service at Finchley Synagogue in north-west London and a further 12,000 who were watching on livestream, he condemned those who supported Hamas, saying they were “fully responsible for this appalling attack”.
His comments come in light of criticism from the Chief Rabbi Sir Ephraim Mirvis of media outlets who refuse to use the word “terrorist” to describe Hamas, which claimed the lives of 900 people in Israel and injured at least 2,600 in a series of coordinated attacks at the weekend. Since the end of 2021, Hamas been a proscribed terrorist organisation in the UK.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak walks into Finchley Synagogue with Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis (Joshua Bratt)
In a rousing speech, which received a standing ovation, Sunak told the audience: “There are not two sides to these events. There is no question of balance.[…] Their barbaric acts are acts of evil. […] Teenagers at a festival of peace gunned down in cold blood. Innocent men, women and children abducted raped, slaughtered – and even a Holocaust survivor taken away as a captive.”
The prime minister voiced his unequivocal support for Israel, saying: “I wanted to come here tonight to stand with you in solidarity in Israel’s hour of grief […] I stand with Israel. We stand with Israel. The United Kingdom stands with Israel against this terrorism, today, tomorrow and always.”
Referring to incidents of antisemitism in the UK since the terrorist attacks, he said: “We’ve already seen vile words on our streets and attempts to stir up community tensions. I say: ‘Not here. Not in Britain. Not in our country. Not in this century.’[…] I promise you I will stop at nothing to keep you safe.”
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak attends the vigil for Israel at Finchley Synagogue (Joshua Bratt)
Calling Israel an “extraordinary land [….] built on the best of humanity”, the prime minister noted that it was the only democracy in the Middle East, “where you can vote” and “where you can be gay”.
Ending on an impassioned note, Sunak told the crowd: “In the words of the Hatikvah [Israel’s national anthem], that hope is not lost. Even in these darkest of days. Perhaps especially in these darkest of days, together we hold fast to that hope of 2,000 years.”
“The days and weeks ahead will continue to be very difficult, but when we say we stand with Israel, we mean it.[…] Am Yisrael Chai. [The people of Israel live.]”
The Chief Rabbi also spoke, saying of Israel: "We share your pain. We share your anguish. We share your fate and destiny. We stand shoulder to shoulder."
Sir Ephraim Mirvis said that since the terrorist attacks, he had been "flooded" with messages from heads of other faiths and political leaders, adding: "No civilised person can be unmoved" by the events of the weekend.
He read out a new prayer which he had composed following the terrorist attacks.
Rabbi Alex Chapper of Borehamwood and Elstree Synagogue, whose sons have been called up to fight in the Israeli army, read out the prayer for the State of Israel and the IDF.
United Synagogue CEO Jo Grose introduced the prayer service, saying it was an opportunity "to show support and draw support from each other and reflect on tragic events".
People from across the Jewish spectrum had turned up, some observant, others not. Some wearing smart clothes, others in jeans and T-shirts. There was no sense of the need for formalities, just the need to be together as a community.
"I couldn't not be here," said Lesley Malmic, 67. "I think solidarity is very important. That's all we've got. I was listening to the news tonight and hearing people whose loved ones had been killed or were missing, and I thought: 'I shouldn't be watching the news, I need to be here.' It's a living hell."
Elodie, 14, said she had wanted to attend "for a sense of community during such a dark time and to hear the Chief Rabbi speak".
Regina Israel, 29, who has family living in Ashkelon, in the south of Israel, said she had "felt like praying and hearing the address of the Chief Rabbi".
"My family are very, very worried about the situation. Some are in the army, some have been drafted back into the reserves. It is a very difficult time, especially for my uncles, who live in Ashkelon. They are now staying in Tel Aviv with relatives. Thankfully, they are all okay."