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‘Real ray of light’: clergy join in march against anti-Semitism in London

30 November 2023

Alamy

The marchers against anti-Semitism at Victoria Embankment, on Sunday

The marchers against anti-Semitism at Victoria Embankment, on Sunday

CLERGY were among the tens of thousands of people who joined a march against anti-Semitism in central London on Sunday.

The Campaign Against Antisemitism, which organised the demonstration under the banner “Stand shoulder to shoulder with British Jews”, said that it was the largest gathering against anti-Semitism since the Battle of Cable Street, in 1936, when supporters of the British Union of Fascists were stopped from marching through east London. It reported that 100,000 people had attended on Sunday.

The director of the Campaign, Stephen Silverman, told LBC on Monday that the march was “a real ray of light”, marked by “dignity, respect . . . classic self-deprecating Jewish humour. It was just a wonderful uplifting experience, despite the seriousness of the issue. Everyone was smiling, the police were smiling, it was superb. I think it has given a lot of hope to a lot of people in this country today.”

In the past two months, he said, Jewish people had been “made to feel very, very unwelcome in this country. People have lost others that they considered to be friends and allies . . . People have become scared to venture out into the capital city on Saturdays.”

The Rector of St Bartholomew the Great, Smithfield, in London, the Revd Marcus Walker, said on Monday that he had been “shocked by how many people I know who are Jewish have faced direct hostility and discrimination since this situation developed. . . I felt that, actually, it’s really quite important to be visible as a Christian and as a priest, present at the march, supporting our Jewish friends and neighbours.”

The atmosphere was “lovely”, he said. “I have rarely ever been on a march before — not necessarily a marching type; so I didn’t really know what to expect. Everybody was good-humoured and friendly. . . I felt very warmly welcomed.” He observed that, “where most of the other marches around this situation have been focused on the war and the situation there, this seemed far more focused on British Jews.” Most banners had been messages of solidarity, opposing anti-Semitism, in addition to posters calling for the return of hostages.

Fr Walker was born in Jerusalem, and grew up in the city. One of the complexities of this was having friends “on both sides who have been killed in the various intifadas and wars of the past 20 years”, he said. “It means almost nothing happens there where I don’t feel a sharp stab of pain for whoever is suffering, which makes it difficult for me to have a black-and-white view on it.”

This week, the Campaign Against Antisemitism published the results of an online survey of 3744 Jewish people last month, contacted through “seed” organisations. A total of 61 per cent said that they had either personally experienced, or witnessed, an anti-Semitic incident since 7 October, or knew somebody who had, while 69 per cent said that they were less likely to show visible signs of their Judaism. Almost half (48 per cent) said that they had considered leaving the UK because of anti-Semitism, while 90 per cent said that they would avoid travelling to a city centre “if a major anti-Israel demonstration was taking place there”.

The Community Security Trust recorded 1563 anti-Semitic incidents in the UK between 7 October and 22 November: more than the entire year before the Hamas attack. This included 70 assaults.

On Wednesday, the Rabbi of Maidenhead Synagogue, Dr Jonathan Romain, described the march on Sunday as a “really important gathering, as proved by the numbers who came. People were looking for that sense of solidarity. Many, many Jewish people have felt profoundly isolated, surrounded by either walls of silence or outright hostility, unheard in their places of work or study, struggling with a narrative that has now forgotten about 7 October and Hamas, and blames everything on Israel.”

It had been a “quiet, calm gathering”, he said, with “a message of humanity” that would be echoed in the interfaith Together for Humanity gathering planned for the coming Sunday outside 10 Downing Street.

In many places in his community, he was hearing that “people they were close to at work shun them — that they can’t even dare say anything about being Jewish, let alone connections with Israel; that their sense of mourning and grief doesn’t count. . . It’s not universal, but I’ve heard that from many people.”

One person had seen a swastika posted over the Israeli flag in their professional body, a “therapeutic body”. “The people in the worlds of healing and medicine are feeling very isolated, let alone in academia. It is an extremely difficult time.”

There were lessons to be learned by managers and leaders in places of work, he suggested: “It’s not about them taking sides: it’s about them creating spaces which are human, compassionate, which can support, hear the grief . . . preventing the workplace becoming a hostile environment to whichever group feels most in the minority or most threatened.”

Conflicts in the world “have been allowed to enter spaces in this country, which should be avoided in future”, he said.

Also in attendance on Sunday was the co-director of the Council of Christians and Jews (CCJ), the Revd Dr Nathan Eddy, with other staff and members. “The atmosphere at the march was positive, peaceful, and one of resilience in the face of hatred,” he said on Monday. “We were honoured to attend and support this important display of unity, standing in solidarity with the Jewish community, friends, and colleagues.”

Another member, Jules Allin, carried a poster of a hostage, Itay Svirsky, whose parents were murdered during the 7 October attack. On Wednesday, she described being stopped by a young man, on her arrival at Parliament Square.

“‘You’re carrying my friend,’ he told me. Far too often, since 7 October, the collective grief experienced by so many Jewish people has been met with indifference, or relitavised on political or ideological grounds, whether in the media, the academy, or the Church.” The march marked “the silent majority in this country becoming a visible presence”, she said.

In a newsletter in the wake of the 7 October attack, CCJ highlighted “a sense of silence that many Jewish leaders are feeling” (News, 20 October). “There was perhaps a lack of understanding that a majority of British Jews and diaspora Jews, they will know someone who has been murdered or taken hostage, and I can say that for myself,” Dr Eddy’s co-director, Georgina Bye said. “There is a real feeling of: this is our family; it’s personal.”

Reaching out could simply mean asking “How are you doing”? she said. “At CCJ, we are all about building relationships. . . We are not expecting people to have the perfect language. . . Being willing to understand someone else’s pain is the starting point.”

The Area Dean of Barnet, the Revd Dr Julie Gittoes, a trustee of Mitzvah Day, attended a vigil at the New North London Synagogue in the wake of the October attack. “Reaching out to friends and colleagues to check in has been one of the most important things; asking how they are, listening to them and not othering them,” she said this week. This year’s Mitzvah Day theme was “Repair the world”, and working alongside those of other faiths in social action was “a powerful sign of shared commitment to strengthen communities in this country”.

Mr Silverman was critical of the Pro-Palestinian marches held during recent weekends, referring to them as evidence of anti-Semitism (News, 17 November). They “say they are marches for peace, but at the same time they are calling for jihad and for the intifada to be globalised”.

The founder of the English Defence League, Tommy Robinson, was asked not to attend by the organisers. He was later arrested by police. “Anyone who wants to use it [the march] in order to exploit hate or sow division is not welcome,” Mr Silverman said.

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