By Gideon Falter, Committee Member, Campaign for anti-Semitism
Last Sunday, I stood on the podium outside the Royal Courts of Justice looking out over thousands of people gathered to demand with one confident, resolute voice, that existing laws against antisemitism be enforced with zero tolerance.
The rally had been called with less than two weeks’ notice by group of like-minded people who did not know each other just a month before.
The British Jewish community has been here for over 350 years. For many, Britain is the place where our families fled during humanity’s darkest days, finding acceptance and protection.
They integrated into British society, becoming part of its fabric and contributing greatly. My friends and I all grew up without discrimination, proudly British and proudly Jewish.
But recently, something changed. Many British Jews wonder whether there is a future for us here. We are not on the brink of a new Holocaust – not at all – but suddenly we fear anti-Semitism in a way that none of us have before.
When battle raged between Hamas and Israel, the obsession of the media, the fastidious disregard for the facts and the insistence on holding Israel to exceptional, impossible standards, helped to feed the oldest hatred. If you wanted to follow the news in Israel, it was almost impossible to do so by reading the British press; there were too many missing facts.
We Jews turned to other sources, but most in Britain did not. Israel’s case was deliberately stifled and our support for Israel was enough to make the disinterested ‘right thinking’ mainstream of British society wince. Supporting Israel meant being ready to explain yourself.
Those same ‘thinking’ people were soon roused from their sofas to decry the putative Israeli ‘genocide’. But in the midst of the crowds, they did not stand up for their Jewish countrymen when demonstrators bellowed “Hamas, Hamas, Jews to the gas” or held aloft the words: “Hitler was right.”
Social media simmered with countless antisemitic posts and tweets. And reports came in of synagogues being vandalised and of Jews being attacked – verbally and physically – as ‘baby killers’.
I spent enough time at law school to be totally confident that the authorities’ retribution would be swift and firm, but the anti-Semites were not arrested. The prosecutions did not materialise.
The police – who arrested a man for a stupid joke on Twitter about blowing up the airport if his ‘plane was delayed – did not knock on the doors of those tweeting #hitlerwasright. Demonstrators could chant what they liked about Jews in front of phalanxes of riot police.
Worst of all, there was no outcry. Most of my Jewish friends consoled me that it would blow over and it was just one of those inconveniences that comes with being Jewish, like schools surrounded by razor wire and bag searches on the way into synagogue; normal, right? As for my non-Jewish friends, most had no idea what we faced.
Continental Europe went about its business as anti-Semitism raged on its streets and the words “never again” faded on monuments. Here in Britain, as antisemites became bold, the authorities looked on with no appetite to intervene.
I looked at the flames in France and felt as though I was seeing our future.
Meanwhile, over in Hendon, something was happening. Joseph Cohen, Darren Borg, Justin Chorn and Jordan Jay created a Facebook group called Campaign Against Antisemitism.
Next came the Tricycle Theatre’s decision to boycott the UK Jewish Film Festival. Along came Rupert Nathan with his own Facebook campaign which soon joined forces with the others. Nathan Hopstein and Mandy Blumental entered the fray.
For me, the Tricycle Theatre was the final straw. For the first time since my student days fighting Israel’s corner as President of an isolated Jsoc, I decided to go to a placard-waving demonstration.
Before I went, I followed my Jewish instincts: I sent the mysterious Campaign Against Antisemitism a message filled with my best advice. For some reason they liked it, and I was in. I called Jonathan Sacerdoti and we had our media man.
Less than a week later, we had developed a plan. We would demand zero tolerance enforcement of existing laws against anti-Semitism by the police.
We set about organising a rally. Within days, the major community institutions had given us their backing. Our social media reach jumped from hundreds of people to tens of thousands. We lined up big speakers. People stepped forward to pay the bills.
And suddenly it was all real. Last Sunday, thousands of people crowded the pavement outside the Royal Courts of Justice demanding protection under the law of the land. They waved Union Jacks and held our placards aloft: “Zero tolerance for anti-Semites.”
The speakers spoke with one penetrating, intelligent voice, the crowd approved and we all went home.
The next day, the Prime Minister told Parliament that we must not tolerate anti-Semitism in our country. He’s right: it’s not a Jewish problem, it’s a British problem.
We have done and will do much more than rallies. We broke a sportsman’s anti-Semitic outburst to the papers, prompted employers to discipline anti-Semitic employees, triggered dozens of police investigations, and so much more. We didn’t do it alone; people like you have stepped forward.
Let’s make this the start. We are teaming up with students, building a legal team, contacting police forces and obtaining support from politicians. This is community as it should be.
If we unite and speak out, it may not yet be too late to turn the tide. Let’s turn the fear into fight. We can still have the country we love and the Anglo-Jewish tradition we cherish.