Tensions are running high – as they always do – when war breaks out in Israel-Palestine. Over the last few days, the attention of many has shifted away from the region to our own soil here in the UK where we seem to be importing conflict and hatred. Over the weekend, the convoy of cars driving through north London flew Palestinian flags, whilst shouting from loudspeakers that Jewish daughters should be raped.
There were also scenes from the 100,000 strong march in central London in support of Palestine over the weekend, of some people chanting the deeply antisemitic slogan “Khayber Khayber Ya Yehud jaish Mohammed Sauf Ya’ud” (“Khayber Khaybar oh Jews, Mohammed’s army is returning”).
Of course – and rightly – this has generated real anger and deep fear from within Jewish communities, worried, especially given that the beginning of this week marked Shavuot, that Jews may be targeted on the streets, blamed for a conflict thousands of miles away.
It has led some members of the Jewish community to conclude that no-one has ‘our’ backs. Writing in the Telegraph one person stated ‘how ludicrous it is to claim that a demonstration in support of Hamas is not anti-Semitic, when the organisation is committed in its founding charter to the elimination of Jews – Jews, not Israel – from the planet.’
Let’s be clear: Palestinians are not ‘Hamas’. Suggesting they are, is akin to suggesting Israelis are ‘Benjamin Netanyahu’. And when you imply that the 100,000 strong demonstration in central London was in support of Hamas, then you are effectively erasing the legitimacy of the Palestinian cause, and the integrity of anyone that dares to support it.
There were not 100,000 people marching the streets of London in support of Hamas. There was a demonstration in support of the Palestinian people, at which there were some antisemites and some people that supported Hamas. Those antisemites should be called out, condemned, and where appropriate be arrested and prosecuted. There were antisemites who drove their cars through London waving a Palestinian flag – they have been arrested. But that does not make the Palestinian flag antisemitic
The extremists want us to import this conflict. They want Jews to turn on Palestinians – for us to say that fighting for Palestinian freedom and dignity is antisemitic. So, when Palestinian freedom and dignity does not happen – because it never does – the Jews can be blamed.
Rather than using public platforms to drive that wedge deeper, and elevate solely the voices of extremists, how about also pointing to the fact that the ‘drive by’ calls for rape have been widely condemned by Palestinians all over the world, including by the Palestinian Ambassador in the UK and those with family sitting in Gaza whose lives are in immediate danger. Just look at this tweet from Mohammed Shehda.
The rhetoric around Israel-Palestine is always represented as a zero-sum game; those that condemn the rocket fire from Hamas which is indiscriminately terrorising and killing Israel civilians must hate Palestinians. Those that criticise Israel’s response because of the horrendous impact it is having on Gaza – the number of people killed, the destruction of health facilities and the list goes on – hate Israelis and Jews, because Hamas is antisemitic. And that applies here. It seems impossible to say people are genuinely concerned for Palestinians human rights and dignity and there are also antisemites that exploit that.
British politicians do not need to divert their attention away from Gaza, as some have suggested, because there are antisemites capitalising on the conflict and roaming the streets of London. They need to deal with the antisemitism whilst simultaneously finding a way for Britain to play a role in ending this bloody conflict.
This is not about ‘two-siding’ the conflict. It is not a war of equals. Israel should not be under bombardment by rocket fire – be under no illusion targeting innocent civilians is undoubtedly a war crime and it should be roundly condemned. But the Palestinian people should not be occupied and dispossessed as they have been for 54 long years. When this latest ‘round’ of violence with Gaza is over, we cannot go back to that status quo which has created so much injustice and hatred. Hamas will not disappear after the occupation ends, but their ability to cynically manipulate and exploit grievous injustice will be significantly diminished.
Those who care about Israel and its people – who are scared for their friends and family under rocket fire – should not run from the Palestinian flag. We should embrace it. The Jewish state will never be safe and secure without freedom and dignity for the Palestinian people.
A Palestinian flag is not an existential threat to Jewish life – quite the opposite in fact. Do not let the extremists set the agenda.