Over the past few days, with a small group of friends and colleagues, I have helped set up British Friends of Israel and gathered support for The October Declaration. Signatories include Sir Tom Stoppard, Dame Maureen Lipman, Sir Tim Rice, Vanessa Feltz, the former head of British Intelligence Sir Richard Dearlove, Countdown’s Rachel Riley and broadcasting titan Andrew Neil; all part of a 200-strong group which features members of the House of Lords, MPs, celebrated historians, professors and journalists like me.
We all stand in support of British Jews and their right to live their lives in this country without fear. We unequivocally condemn the horrifying terrorist attacks by Hamas in Israel on 7 October and the suffering Hamas has brought on the Palestinian people. We deplore the subsequent increase in antisemitism, we ask the media, members of all political parties and the general public to call Hamas what it is – a terrorist organisation – and we demand that the police use the full force of the Terrorism Act against its supporters.
None of us ever imagined such a thing would be necessary in this country in the 21st century but, sadly, here we are. As TV presenter Rachel Riley says in an emotional statement supporting the declaration, “What has been so hurtful here at home has been the denial of the atrocities, the tearing down of posters of the abducted children and the willingness of so many to side with Hamas – from football heroes to “peace activists” who have nothing to say about what Hamas did. It feels like a layer has been peeled off society; we are seeing how little some people care about Jewish lives.”
The idea for British Friends of Israel first came from Laura Dodsworth, author of A State of Fear. Laura was appalled by the scenes she was witnessing on the TV. “Within hours of the terrorist attacks there were marches around the world with chants of ‘Death to Israel’ and ‘Gas the Jews’ before the bodies had even been counted. Antisemitism skyrocketed here in Britain which has been a safe home for Jews for hundreds of years. Children were too scared to go to school. What have we become? Frankly, it has sickened me. I thought, this has to be the time to stand in solidarity with British Jews.”
Like Laura, I was disgusted by the speed with which the media narrative moved on from shock at the savagery with which Hamas thugs slaughtered 1,400 Israelis, many of them youngsters and elderly people, to concern about the destruction in Gaza. The latter is horrible, undoubtedly, but it is not in the same league of depravity as going into a kibbutz, tying the hands of children behind their backs, throwing them on a pile and setting fire to them.
An open letter from Artists for Palestine UK, signed by Steve Coogan, Maxine Peake and nearly 4,000 other halo-polishing artists somehow managed not to mention any of the atrocities or, indeed, the name Hamas. In Israel, pathologists were still struggling to identify young festival-goers from dental records and DNA samples because their bodies had been so horribly burned and butchered, but the celebs chose to swiftly change the subject.
“Shame on those bleeding heartless liberals”, raged Dame Maureen Lipman, another name who has signed our declaration, in an excoriating blast at the moral vapidity of many in her trade. “If there was a charter signed by a terrorist group which vowed to kill every Protestant and drive every English institution into the sea, which abducted two hundred men women and children in Oxford Street (on Christmas Day) including Chelsea Pensioners and Nadiya Hussain and Mary Berry – and tortured and raped your sons and daughters – if that happened, Messrs Social Conscience, tell me, please tell me, in your view, what would be a PROPORTIONATE RESPONSE?”
Magnificently thundered, Maureen! And, as she points out, Hamas has done nothing for the Palestinians save stealing the millions donated in aid money while keeping them in penury.
Just like the celebs, the BBC and other left-leaning broadcasters clearly felt the Israelis had had quite enough sympathy. Reporters began to parrot “Palestinian” statements, as if the word of mass murderers, the blood of babies on their hands, could be trusted.
Hamas apologists were given airtime in which they explained that the group had “not killed any civilians”. Israelis contended that the denial of the Oct 7 massacre, its rapid downplaying by the media, amounted to “Holocaust denial in real time”.
On Monday, Israel will take the extraordinary step of screening for foreign journalists the raw, unedited footage of the Hamas atrocities as captured on the body cams of the death squads. I have seen one of those videos in which a family home is turned into an abattoir, a sight so piteous you can never unsee it. The footage is so viscerally gruesome, so revealing of the bestial inhumanity of the attackers that even the BBC may agree to finally call Hamas terrorists.
Either way, it is a sign that Israel point blank refuses to let Hamas win the bloody propaganda war. It will allow its dead and its dying to have the final say and win hearts and minds from beyond the grave. It is a controversial but devastating tactic, which leaves a pro-Palestine media little choice but to report it.
One of the most egregious examples of media bias was the BBC’s reporting of the explosion at Gaza’s al-Ahli hospital. Five hundred people had been killed in the blast, we were informed by an excitable reporter. How could anyone possibly have known, so soon after the event, exactly how many victims there were? They couldn’t.
But the BBC man, a disgrace to journalism and a useful idiot for the Hamas propaganda machine, took the terrorists’ made-up figure as gospel. “It’s hard to see what else this could be, really, given the size of the explosion other than an Israeli air strike or several air strikes,” he opined. This rush to judgment (it now seems the hospital wasn’t destroyed at all and casualties were far lower) was likely partly responsible for a flare-up of anti-Semitic violence around the world.
Israel haters and Palestine flag-wavers were cock-a-hoop. The bombing of a hospital, albeit imaginary, was a win for their side because it reflected so badly on the enemy. The massacres of 7th October could conveniently be forgotten, the moral high ground retaken and Israel put back where they like it: in the wrong.
Here in the UK, you would have hoped for a robust response to reassure our Jewish community, their “minds full of pain”, as one devastated friend put it. Well, you would have been disappointed. Members of the Government make reassuring noises, but there were pitifully few arrests. As Lord Frost, another signatory to the October Declaration says, “We have seen shocking acts of antisemitism on Britain’s streets in recent days and the authorities have not always reacted robustly.”
You can say that again. On Saturday, 100,000 marchers, many of them bellowing the genocidal chant, “From the river to the sea/Palestine will be free” were allowed to proceed unhindered because, in a new rule apparently made up by police, “the route does not go near a synagogue or Jewish school”. So, that’s OK, then.
On the same day, in response to activists at the Hizb-ut-Tahrir protest shouting, “Jihad”, the Metropolitan police released a statement which suggests an unlikely state of affairs: the London bobby has turned Islamic scholar.
“The word jihad has a number of meanings but we know the public will most commonly associate it with terrorism,” the Met statement begins gingerly. “We have specialist counter terrorism officers here who have particular knowledge in this area. They have assessed this video, filmed at the protest, and have not identified any offences arising from the specific clip.”
I can guarantee that if someone had been using language upsetting to Muslims, the police would have pounced. But because it was antisemitic language chanted by a large group of mainly Muslims, no one dared.
As Hizb ut-Tahir is an Islamic fundamentalist organisation with the stated aim of re-establishing a caliphate to implement sharia law globally, the chances that the London brothers were using “Jihad” in the sense of “fancy a nice cuppa and a chat” rather than “let’s wage holy war against the infidels” is really quite remote. Hizb-ut-Tahir is a banned organisation in most Muslim countries, which tells you something, and only a cavalier approach to public safety (and fear of the “community” kicking off) keeps it legal here.
How are British Jews supposed to react to this institutional pusillanimity? A friend who had to travel on the Tube at the weekend removed the dainty Star of David necklace she always wears. Proud of being British, proud of being Jewish, Liz is intimidated. No wonder. There has been a huge rise in antisemitic incidents compared to this same period last year.
The lack of visible support for Israel is demoralising. The Government must not give up ground to the mob, but can we trust it to hold firm? Some Jews are deeply upset; others, resigned, talk of packing their bags.
As the barrister Francis Hoar, one of my fellow organisers, puts it: “The British reaction to the horrific massacres in Israel should unsettle us all. Unqualified celebration of behaviour equivalent to the Einsatzgruppen on our streets; the failure to condemn indiscriminate murder without qualification; and the failure of our police forces to control protesters, arrest those glorifying terror and protect our Jewish community.”
“Perhaps worst of all has been the juxtaposition of small numbers of largely Jewish people commemorating the dead and calling for the return of hostages with tens of thousands marching alongside banners glorifying their killers. Now more than ever must the British people stand up for our Jewish community that has made such an incomparable contribution to every aspect of our history and our society. We stand with you, now and always.”
I agree with every word of that. If you think this isn’t your fight, pay attention to the words of our greatest living writer, a matchless chronicler of the Jewish experience, Sir Tom Stoppard: “Before we take up a position on what’s happening now we should consider whether this is a fight over territory or a struggle between civilisation and barbarism.”
If you would like to show support for our Jewish brothers and sisters, for whom this country, their country, our country, is no longer a place of safety, please go toand sign The October Declaration.
Too often, declarations such as this are moral posturing, empty words from the great and the good, I know. But if it helps Jewish people to feel less alone, then it will have been worth it.