Dr Shuja Shafi

Dr Shuja Shafi

Dr Shuja Shafi, Secretary General, Muslim Council of Britain

With at least 1,200 Palestinians killed by the massive firepower of Israeli military weapons, emotions are running high as we witness the daily images of another dead child, a grieving mother and a people in despair.

The vast majority of us who have been moved to action have taken to the streets, donated to those suffering, and written to our MPs. This, in my view, is legitimate, effective and meaningful action.

What is not legitimate, and is downright counter-productive, are the incidences of anti-Semitism that have led to violent attacks on Jewish people and Jewish places of worship reported in Europe.

These are wrong and I condemn these actions. No Jewish person should feel threatened or be made to account for the run-away excesses of the Netanyahu government.

Specifically, Islam does not condone such acts. But on a practical level, whomever is responsible for such violence, they do a disservice to the aspirations of the Palestinian people who have suffered for so long.

Those of us campaigning and raising awareness of the plight of Palestinians must re-double our efforts to choose our words carefully.

The crisis in the Holy Land undeniably polarises opinion and brings out the worst amongst some of us.

A Shomrim volunteer removing a swastika painted on a wall in Lower Clapton over the weekend.

A Shomrim volunteer removing a swastika painted on a wall in Lower Clapton over the weekend.

When anti-Semitism rises, levels of Islamophobia rise too, and nobody is a winner.

There have been also incidences of Islamophobia that have not yet thankfully expressed itself in violence.

A placard at a London pro-Israel rally tarred all Muslims with the same extremist brush by stating “the Jewish people NEVER send suicide bomber to London; killed British soldier in London, protest on London street in London against the Queen.”

More incipient, however, is the automatic assumption in some of our mainstream press that all Muslims turn to anti-Semitism.

For example, the commentator Douglas Murray branded a pro-Palestinian march “anti-Semitic” because “most of the women seem to be wearing headscarves or the burka”.

To tar a whole population with a strong label like anti-Semitism is unacceptable, it shuts down legitimate political protest.

None of us, neither Muslim nor Jew, can allow these divisive figures to dictate our relationship with each other.

We undoubtedly hold strong opinions about the causes of the conflict and what needs to be done to bring the violence to an end. My view is that Israel’s assault on Gaza and its seven-year siege must end now. I would dearly like those Jewish friends – across the spectrum – to come round to this point of view.

We may lobby and protest in accordance with our principled positions. But we must ensure that we do not de-legitimise the other’s right to lobby for a different view.

Above all we must be resolved to ensure that the Israel-Palestine conflict does not affect the excellent relations between our two communities here.

Over the decades I have worked extremely hard to foster practical co-operation between Jews and Muslims. I have had the pleasure of working with my Jewish counterparts to counter the far-right, defend halal and kosher food, and safeguard Muslim and Jewish religious rights.

There is a lot more for us to do if we become more united.

Of course, on the Middle East itself, some Muslims and Jews have come together in the name of humanity to call for an end to the killing of innocent people.

I hope we can find enough common ground and common language to make this call more widespread.