Boris Johnson has spoken of his sadness at the suffering of the French Jewish community and declared “we are all Jews today”.
The Mayor of London was speaking in Trafalgar Square as thousands gathered for a vigil in memory of the victims of the terror attacks in France, including the murder of four people at a kosher supermarket on Friday.
“People must be in a state of absolute anguish after what they saw in the supermarket in Paris, he told the Jewish News. “I’ve been reading about the state of morale of the community there and about the level of immigration – I feel very sad about it. Nous sommes tous juif aujoud’hui (we’re all Jews today).”
Johnson said that, though there was no intelligence of an imminent terror threat to London or the capital’s Jews, the “particular” risks of terrorism against Jewish targets were “constantly part of our assessments”. He said: “Will so everything we can to protect every community. We’re working flat out to monitor the guys who mean us harm.”
He said he “absolutely” understood heightened fears of British Jews about anti-Semitism and called for “vigilance. We come down like a tonne of bricks on any sign of anti-Semitism or hate speech. We work closely with the CST to fight it.”
The mayor said it was “wonderful” to see Londoners of all backgrounds come together for the vigil, much of which took place in eerie silence. “That is spirit of London. London came together after 7/7 and I’m sure Paris will come together now.”
He added: “I think the most important thing we’ve seen in recent days are some fantastic statements and deeds by members of the Muslim community. Never forget it was a brave Muslim police officer who was shot on that pavement. It was a Muslim shop worker who helped people in the kosher supermarket. I’ve seen some excellent and dignified statement from leaders of the Muslim community – though not from everyone.”
Paying tribute to the “heroic” actions of supermarket worker Lassana Bathily, Johnson said: “he showed the spirit and humanity that people need to see now. He represented the spirit of the not just the overwhelming majority of people but also the overwhelming majority of Muslims.”
Leaders of the Board of deputies, Jewish leadership council and London Jewish Forim were among members of the Jewish community joining the hastily-arranged rally, organised by the French Embassy.
The Campaign against Antisemitism also joined the crowds – and urged supporters to do the same. A spokesman said: “When it is unsafe to speak your mind in the press, uphold society’s laws or be Jewish, history tells us that freedom itself is at stake.
“We are all still reeling from this brutal atrocity which is the latest in a strong of deadly attacks by Islamic fundamentalists in Europe. The Jewish community is yet again in mourning. The problem is much deeper than a single attack.”
Jewish Argentine Damian Coltzau, who has lived in the UK for seven years, said to came to express solidarity with the people of France. While he says he currently feels safe in London, he would likely stop visiting France for regular work trips. “The reaction to the Gaza conflict in France made me hesitate about going. I went twice for previous commitments but now I’ll give up on that.”
Also joining the crowds was lawyer Peter korn from Hendon, who said it was “important that people stand together reinforcing our values. I felt numb when I heard what happened in France”. While these were difficult times, he said he didn’t feel less safe as a result of the Franc atrocities and was as comfortable as ever about wearing his kippah in public in the capital.
But 17-year-old Libby Walker, who had eaten in a kosher restaurant in Paris just a few days earlier, said the attacks had made her “a bit scared about being openly Jewish” in the UK. “The other week I wore my tour t-shirt which has a magen david to the gym and I don’t think I’d now feel comfortable about doing that now.”