Day 96. Since just after the beginning of the war, as antisemitic attacks soared in the UK, reports emerged of attacks against members of the UK Muslim community. Consequently there have been further reports which attempt to link the two.
Reform Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner in an article in The Times last Saturday 6 January wrote about the issues facing the Jewish and Muslim communities. In particular she said: ‘I’m concerned that a form of proxy war for Gaza and Israel is being waged here, in which British Jews and British Muslims are erroneously and divisively held accountable for a war being waged abroad. I cannot speak for Muslim friends and colleagues; however, many of my congregants describe feeling frightened and even terrified. It is simply wrong that British Jews and Muslims are scared of routinely living their benign spiritual and communal lives’.
The suggestion is that there is an equivalence between the two communities, and that they are in conflict with each other, as a mirror to what is happening in Gaza. Yet that is far from correct. The Jewish News in the UK in November of 2023 reported that
the police were investigating allegations of antisemitic hate speech by preachers at mosques across England after TalkTV reported that leaked footage showed preachers calling for Jews to be killed and Israel to be destroyed during sermons at mosques in London, Birmingham, Liverpool, and Northampton.
I have not read any reports of rabbis calling for Muslims to be killed, nor have I seen any evidence of animosity towards Jews in any of the solidarity marches organised by various UK Jewish groups. Whilst there have been recorded attacks against Jews by Islamist extremists, I have not seen attacks by any extremist Jewish group against Muslims. I have though seen various reports of far-right groups attacking Muslims and sadly this is not new.
Here in the UK, whilst as Jews we are far better off security wise than other European countries, we still have our problems. All mainstream Jewish schools have security regimes in place, as do most synagogues. I don’t remember seeing this regularly outside other faith schools. Rabbi Janner-Klausner is right to be concerned about the increased intimidation of UK Jews, she is not right though to suggest that the two communities – Muslim and Jewish – are fighting a proxy war. It is more complicated than that.
The attacks on Jews have come from Islamist extremists, and those on the far-left who have traditionally hated Jews and are now emboldened to taking physical action, whether it be against individuals or property. It is the far-right (who are small in number) who are attacking members of the Muslim community making this a three not a two corner conflict. Whilst the Rabbi talks about interfaith vigils and invitations to interfaith podcasts, these are regrettably few and far between.
Huge efforts have been made by the Jewish communal leaders with interfaith, in an attempt to build bridges with the Christian and particularly the Muslim community. It is truly heartening to read joint statements from Rabbis, Priests and Muslims condemning the hate and violence in the UK and calling for peace even before the 7th October.
That message though has failed to reach those preachers who have allegedly called for the killing of Jews. It has also failed to reach the Muslim Council of Britain – MCB, an organisation which claims to be an umbrella organisation for over 500 members including mosques, schools, charitable associations and professional networks. On the 1st December 2023 MCB published a call for ‘….an immediate Permanent ceasefire and end to occupation of Palestine’ and further stated that ‘It is imperative that Israel is held to account at the International Criminal Court for war crimes’.
These are not soothing words, nor do they reflect a desire to work together for a lasting peace. They do though reflect a very serious issue that has been present for many years now, and which to date the Jewish communal leadership have largely deliberately ignored, probably because it doesn’t fit with their cosy interfaith campaign. According to the Charity Commission, data for the financial year ending 31 December 2022 for the Muslim Council of Britain Charitable Foundation showed total income: £428,261of which £326,045 came from one Government grant.
Taxpayers money is being used to promote a narrative which claims Israel are committing war crimes, hardly a good use of scarce resource in my view. It is most disappointing that when calls for peace and interfaith tolerance are being made, that the MCB and other organisations like it are ignored. It is organisations such as this which go a long way to explaining why Jews are feeling isolated and marginalised and for as long as this particular elephant is rendered invisible, there can be no return for the British Jews and Muslims to their benign spiritual and communal lives to which the Rabbi referred.