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Anti-Semitic incidents in UK condemned by church leaders as violence in the Holy Land escalates

17 May 2021

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The convoy sporting Palestinian flags in north London on Sunday

The convoy sporting Palestinian flags in north London on Sunday

THE Archbishop of Canterbury has joined other religious and political leaders in condemning the surge of anti-Semitic incidents across the UK over the weekend, in response to the escalating violence between Israelis and Palestinians in the Holy Land (News, 14 May).

By Monday, 198 Palestinians were reported to have been killed, including 34 women and 58 children; 1230 are reported injured. Reported Israeli deaths stand at ten, including two children.

On Saturday, thousands of people attended a rally in Hyde Park, London, which called on the Government to “stop allowing Israel’s brutal violence against and oppression of the Palestinian people to go unpunished”. The former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was among the speakers. Demonstrators climbed surrounding buildings and the gates of Kensington Palace.

Legitimate protests have been marred by outbreaks of anti-Semitism, however. The Community Security Trust (CST), a charity that works with the police and government to protect British Jews from anti-Semitism and related threats, reported a sharp rise in incidents before the weekend.

“This includes verbal abuse, threats, and a very large amount of hatred in social media and online,” the trust said. “We have also seen numerous anti-Israel demonstrations featuring large crowds of angry protesters, a minority of whom have used anti-Semitic chants or placards. This may heighten tensions and potentially cause more anti-Semitism.” A rabbi in Chigwell, in Essex, needed hospital treatment after being attacked by two youths.

On Sunday, a video was posted on social media which showed a convoy of cars covered with Palestinian flags driving down Finchley Road in north London — a predominantly Jewish area — with a man shouting abuse from a megaphone. Four men were later arrested.

Responding to the incidents, Archbishop Welby posted on social media: “There can be no excuse for the appalling antisemitism we have seen in the UK today. Such hatred here will not help bring long overdue peace with justice in Israel/Palestine. As we continue to pray for the Holy Land we must reject violence, the threat of violence and antisemitism.”

The chair of the Council of Christian and Jews, the Bishop of Lichfield, Dr Michael Ipgrave, expressed “grave concern” over anti-Semitic incidents connected to the events in Israel and Palestine. He said on Sunday: “We are grateful that police have made arrests in connection with unconscionable language about Jews and Judaism shouted on the streets of north London yesterday afternoon. . . There is no room for anti-Semitism or any form of racism in our society, regardless of our political views.”

The Prime Minister, the leader of the opposition, Sir Keir Starmer, and the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, all issued statements condemning anti-Semitism and hate crime. Mr Johnson said: “There is no place for anti-Semitism in our society. Ahead of Shavuot, I stand with Britain’s Jews who should not have to endure the type of shameful racism we have seen today.”

The Bishop of Southwark, the Rt Revd Christopher Chessun, is currently in Jerusalem, where he attended the installation of the new Anglican Archbishop in Jerusalem, the Most Revd Hosam Naoum, at St George’s Cathedral on Ascension Day. Bishop Chessun said on Monday that he could “only speak of contrasts” — a “very joyful installation” and “by contrast, debris on nearby streets and at night the sound of stun grenades in neighbouring Sheikh Jarrah where the threat of eviction from their homes of a number of Palestinian families has been one of the flashpoints for recent violence which has further polarised people. 

“Of course, there is an urgent need for hostilities in Gaza to cease including the firing of rockets by Hamas; but there is a growing recognition that lasting peace with justice can only be achieved if the rights of all the peoples of these lands are upheld and underlying grievances are addressed. Israel needs not to become her own worst enemy.” 

He continued: “Meanwhile in Britain the assault on the rabbi outside his synagogue in Chigwell shows us where violence in language can lead. The prompt action of the Police to intervene is to be applauded. The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has properly condemned anti-Semitic hate crimes and we must have confidence to report all such incidents, knowing that as in these cases, they will be followed up.

“The Archbishop of Canterbury speaks for many leaders of faith communities and people of goodwill when he says behaviour such as that alleged in St John’s Wood (in whose synagogue I have spoken at a meeting of the Council of Christians and Jews) will bring no justice to Palestine and Israel.”

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