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Faith leaders warn against hate crimes in the UK arising from Middle East turmoil

17 October 2023


Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and Shaykh Ibrahim Mogra outside Lambeth Palace in London on Tuesday morning

Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and Shaykh Ibrahim Mogra outside Lambeth Palace in London on Tuesday morning

THE Archbishop of Canterbury, the Senior Rabbi of Masorti Judaism UK, and a former Assistant Secretary-General of the Muslim Council of Britain have joined to condemn anti-Semitism in the UK and to call for unity between British faith communities against the backdrop of war between Israel and Hamas.

Speaking together outside Lambeth Palace on Tuesday morning, Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg (Interview, 31 May 2013) and Shaykh Ibrahim Mogra referred to a 500-per-cent rise in anti-Semitic incidents — a figure reported by the Community Security Trust on Monday.

“We have come together out of shared concern for our communities and neighbourhoods here in the UK, and to stand together against any form of hatred or violence against Jewish people or any other community,” Archbishop Welby said, noting the “particular friendship” of his co-speakers.

Shaykh Mogra, a scholar and imam from Leicester, said: “It is deplorable and wrong that our Jewish community here has been the target of hate crimes. It is unacceptable that synagogues and Jewish centres have been targeted. . . I condemn these attacks and call on all fellow citizens to stand up and speak out against all and every form of hate.

“I pray for an end to this war and all wars; I pray for the innocent caught up in the carnage; I pray for the safety of everyone, wherever they are.”

Referring to Rabbi Wittenberg as his “dear friend”, he said: “We are all deeply pained by what is happening in Palestine and Israel. We have found some comfort and a lot of hope in our friendships that have been built over many years. We stand together to express our shared commitment to protecting the relationship between our communities.

“British Muslims and Jews have much in common, and there are many personal ties between us. We have celebrated happy times together, and stood together in solidarity during difficult and challenging times. We have been, and will sometimes be, on opposite sides, but we live together as neighbours in peace and harmony, disagreeing with each other respectfully, without resorting to hate or violence.

“At this critical time, we share deep concern for the welfare of everyone. We are determined to do our utmost to prevent violence and intimidation across our country, whether on the streets, in places of worship, in schools, in universities, or in any other institutions.”

Thanking Shaykh Mogra, Rabbi Wittenberg said: “Your solidarity in standing up and speaking out clearly against all forms of anti-Semitism and anti-Semitic intimidation at this most deeply painful time means a great deal.

“The Jewish community, led by the Board of Deputies, the Jewish Leadership Council, and the Community Security Trust has long condemned and continues to condemn all racism directed against Muslims, from whatever source.

“As leaders in the British Jewish and Muslim communities we affirm the importance of maintaining our relationships even, and especially, in troubled times.

“We have so much in common; there are many friendships between us, and we have stood together through both peaceful and challenging days. As you say, we will sometimes have different loyalties, yet it is essential that we live together across the United Kingdom as neighbours and fellow citizens in peace and with respect.

“I share your prayers for an ultimate end to war. My prayers, too, are with all the innocent people caught up in this horror, for all those who are hurt and grieve, and all who long for the safety and well-being of their loved ones.

“We are both on the side of life. We share deep concern for the welfare of everyone and pray for a better future for all.”

Concluding the statements, Archbishop Welby said: “We cannot allow the seeds of hatred and prejudice to be sown afresh in our communities. And, at this time especially, we cannot allow the cancer of anti-Semitism to spread in our nation. I pray that we remain united against all forms of discrimination, and for our Jewish neighbours and all our communities to know that they are an essential part of our country.”

On Monday, the Community Security Trust said that, in the ten days since the Hamas attack on Israel (News, 9 October), it had recorded at least 320 anti-Semitic incidents across the UK, compared with 47 over the same period last year: “These are all instances of anti-Jewish racism, wherein offenders are targeting Jewish people, communities, and institutions for their Jewishness. In many cases, these hateful comments, threats to life and physical attacks are laced with the language and symbols of pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel politics.”

These included 15 assaults and 14 incidents of damage and desecration to Jewish property, and 244 instances of “abusive behaviour”, including verbal abuse, graffiti on non-Jewish property, hate mail, and online abuse. Examples included a sticker plastered on a synagogue showing the Prime Minister saying: “I stand with genocide.”

Two Jewish schools in north London have been daubed with red paint, Shomrim Stamford Hill, a neighbourhood group, has reported. Hackney Police confirmed on Monday that it was investigating both incidents as hate crimes.

Last Friday, the Metropolitan Police said that there had been a “massive increase” in anti-Semitic incidents reported to the police in London. Between 30 September and 13 October, there had been 105 incidents and 75 offences, compared with 14 and 12 in the same period last year.

The deputy assistant commissioner, Laurence Taylor, said that incidents included intimidation outside synagogues and loudly playing German military music.

On Monday, Archbishop Welby wrote on social media: “The cancer of anti-Semitism must not be allowed to spread in the UK. I stand in full solidarity with the Jewish community in the face of the disgraceful hatred and prejudice we’re seeing on our streets, online and on campuses.

“We cannot tolerate such hatred. It’s our moral responsibility to reject it — and unite in resistance to it.”

On Saturday, the Prime Minister said: “We’ve seen intimidating behaviour and shameful anti-Semitism online and on our streets with attempts to stir up tensions. I say: not here. Not in Britain. Not in our country. Not in this century. We will do everything we possibly can to protect Jewish people in our country. And if anything is standing in the way of keeping the Jewish community safe, we will fix it.

“I am unequivocal. We stand with Israel, not just today, not just tomorrow, but always. And I stand with you, the British Jewish community, not just today, not just tomorrow, but always.”

On Wednesday of last week, Mr Sunak joined the Chief Rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis, at a vigil at Finchley United Synagogue.

Last week, the Chief Rabbi issued a statement criticising the decision by media outlets not to use the term “terrorist” to describe Hamas. “It should be painfully obvious that there is no moral equivalence between those whose motive is to deliberately target innocent civilians in cold blood, and those whose motive is to remove the threat of such murderers,” he wrote on social media. “The fact that this discussion is necessary at all is a clear sign that we are losing our moral compass and of the warped nature of the depths to which discourse on Israel has sunk.”

Writing in The Times on Saturday, Rabbi Wittenberg wrote: “Our support for Israel in its battle against Hamas is stalwart. It must be made unequivocally clear that Hamas is a terrorist organisation, not the liberator of Palestine.”

He continued: “The people of Gaza are, in a different way, also hostages to Hamas. Half of them are children under 18. The vast majority doubtless want to live, as we do, in freedom and with hope. I fear for them, in the battle that has begun. I pray that as few civilians as possible are killed. . .

“Yet Hamas must be defeated. I pray for the Israeli soldiers who face that terrible task. At the same time, I worry about what defeating a terrorist organisation, fed by its radicalising ideologues, really means. Weapons are now an evil necessity. But war alone cannot achieve the essential objective of ending terror, and many more are likely to die. All around, people are expressing their anxious concern, for all life.”

On the day after the Hamas attacks in Israel, the Muslim Council of Britain warned of “the risk that at times like these both Islamophobia and Anti-Semitism rise. We must be proactive to ensure that this is not the case and our communities can come together for the common good.”

With the UN warning of a humanitarian crisis in Gaza, the Archbishop of Canterbury had pleaded “that the sins of Hamas are not borne by the citizens of Gaza”, and warned that the enclave’s hospitals were “facing catastrophe”  (News, 15 October).

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