OPINION – Sajid Javid: My profoundly moving trip to Israel was worth the wait
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OPINION – Sajid Javid: My profoundly moving trip to Israel was worth the wait

After becoming the first UK minister to visit Israel for almost 20-years, Sajid Javid reflects on the significance of strong ties with the Jewish state and working towards peace

Sajid Javid MP
  • Javid (centre) in Al Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount, Jerusalem
    Javid (centre) in Al Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount, Jerusalem
  • Sajid Javid pays his respects at Yad Vashem
    Sajid Javid pays his respects at Yad Vashem
  • Sajid Javid at Yad Vashem
    Sajid Javid at Yad Vashem
  • Sajid Javid places a note into the wall at the Kotel
    Sajid Javid places a note into the wall at the Kotel
  • Sajid Javid meeting Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu
    Sajid Javid meeting Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu
  • Sajid Javid meets Christian leaders in Jerusalem
    Sajid Javid meets Christian leaders in Jerusalem
  • Sajid Javid at the Hall of Names, in Yad Vashem
    Sajid Javid at the Hall of Names, in Yad Vashem
  • Sajid Javid at the Kotel
    Sajid Javid at the Kotel

My interest in Israel long preceded my time in politics. The first time I heard the word ‘Israel’ as a child was when my father, a Muslim, strongly defended the locally controversial decision of my brother’s school to organise a trip there. Why not, he argued. They are a proud people and we can only benefit from more interaction, not less. My interest and admiration has been undimmed ever since – through business, government and life. My wife Laura and I even made Israel our honeymoon destination some 20 years ago.

The UK’s security cooperation and trade with Israel is better than it’s ever been, and we remain leading aid and diplomatic partners to the Palestinian Authority.

So this was also a trip I’ve wanted to take for some time in my current capacity, but diplomatic trips have been difficult to squeeze in recently between regular crunch votes in Parliament and maintaining Home Office responsibilities.

It has been well worth the wait. I had the privilege of meeting with prime ministers and security leaders on both sides, the UN’s special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, as well as some impressive venture capitalists trying to make a difference through tech.

But for me, the real focus and highlight was meeting with religious leaders from all of the major Abrahamic traditions and touring the deeply moving Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial.

Sajid Javid at the Hall of Names, in Yad Vashem

This is a region draped in a rich tapestry of history, culture and religion. When you stroll through the ancient streets of Jerusalem’s Old City, visit the ancient church of Holy Sepulchre, or climb the rocky foothills of the West Bank city of Ramallah, it truly hits home why this region is such as special place, and the significance the sacred Holy Land holds to Jews, Christians and Muslims alike.

I was honoured to become the first UK minister to say a prayer at Al-Aqsa mosque next to the Dome of the Rock, and the first in two decades to visit the Western Wall.

Javid (centre) in Al Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount, Jerusalem

These profound visits reaffirmed to me that we must continue to strive for a world of religious tolerance where people of all faiths are free to practise their beliefs without the fear of persecution.

The stakes for pluralism and the dangers of polarisation and extremism are clearly at the more acute end of the spectrum in this tiny, historic piece of land.

Yet the UK and especially some parts of Europe are certainly somewhere on that spectrum.

I was honoured to become the first UK minister to say a prayer at Al-Aqsa mosque next to the Dome of the Rock, and the first in two decades to visit the Western Wall.

Like many I’ve been deeply troubled by the rise in antisemitic incidents back home, with over 100 reported every single month this year.

We opened our country and our homes to Jewish families and children fleeing the horrors of Nazi Germany all those years ago.

Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis speaking with Home Secretary Sajid Javid at an event at London Central Mosque

I never would have imagined that in 2019, Jewish people would fear abuse and attack on our streets, or fear of cemeteries and synagogues being daubed with swastikas and vile racist epithet.

As both home secretary and communities secretary, I’ve been determined to safeguard our Jewish communities from this creeping antisemitism which not only fuels hate crime, but also extremism and even terrorism.

I never would have imagined that in 2019, Jewish people would fear abuse and attack on our streets, or fear of cemeteries and synagogues being daubed with swastikas and vile racist epithet.

I have increased the funding provided for protective security at Jewish community sites to record levels – but it is shameful that it is necessary that Jews need more protection than any other British citizen.

I also took the decision to ban Hezbollah, in its entirety, as a terrorist organisation – a group whose primary goal remains the elimination of the state of Israel.

Sajid Javid pays his respects at Yad Vashem

I unfortunately am all too aware that like our Jewish compatriots, British Muslims are facing rising hatred – both on the streets and online. Both forms of hate are being perpetuated by extremists who are using the internet and social media to peddle their abhorrent views.

That’s why, as well as cracking down on social media companies, I have doubled the places of worship fund that helps mosques and other religious institutions with physical security, and funded new education initiatives to raise awareness of anti-Muslim hatred.

Sajid Javid meeting Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu

I believe we are the most successful multiracial democracy in the world, and we should be proud to be a peaceful home to many beliefs and faiths. But as we continue to play a constructive role in the world we have to hold ourselves to the highest of standards.

The challenges faced by our Israeli and Palestinian friends on the road to peace and tolerance are a reminder that we should treasure our hard-won religious freedoms.

And in these increasingly divisive times, we cannot afford to be complacent.

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