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Welby: ‘Time to clean our own doorstep of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia’

04 December 2023


The Archbishop of Canterbury speaks at the Together for Humanity vigil in Whitehall on Sunday. Also on the stage are Imam Monawar Hussain, Rabbi David Mason, and Brendan Cox

The Archbishop of Canterbury speaks at the Together for Humanity vigil in Whitehall on Sunday. Also on the stage are Imam Monawar Hussain, Rabbi David...

AMID rising anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, the UK is called to “clean up our doorstep” the Archbishop of Canterbury told a gathering opposite Downing Street on Sunday.

Addressing the Together for Humanity “Building Bridges” rally, he said: “Tomorrow there will be children thinking about going to school in the UK who dread going because they will be spat at, shouted at, and hated because they are Muslim, because they are Jewish.

“They will have to go without their uniforms because it identifies them too clearly — and that in our streets.”

He told the story of speaking to someone in a flooded street, The Daily Telegraph reported. Water had subsided, leaving “filth and mess” in its wake, and he had asked: “Where do we start?” The woman had replied: “Let’s clean up our own doorsteps first.”

“We are called to clean up our doorstep in this country,” the Archbishop told the gathering. “To clean away all anti-Semitism, all Islamophobia, and to make sure that when we speak of peace we have lit a light of peace here that can give a beacon elsewhere.”

Together for Humanity is a coalition of charities, community organisations, and faith groups who have joined to “give a voice to the majority of the public who stand against hate”. Its website explains: “We’re here to create a space for people to grieve for all civilians killed in this war — Israeli or Palestinian — and to share a vision of hope that people of different backgrounds and faiths can live in peace alongside each other, here in the UK and around the world.” The co-founder is Brendan Cox, whose first wife, Jo Cox, an MP, was killed by a far-Right extremist in 2016 (News, 24 June 2016).

Among the speakers were people who had lost family members in the conflict. Magen Inon, whose parents, Yakovi and Bilha Inon, were both killed on 7 October, said: “Extremists who call for more violence are hijacking our pain. They are feeding off one another, and will never be able to quench their bloodlust. The only possible revenge of my parents is to set aside fear and hate and hope a better future is possible.”

He was joined on stage by a Palestinian peace activist, Hamze Awawde, who lives in Ramallah in the occupied West Bank, whose cousin was recently injured after being shot by the IDF. They are both fathers of six-year-old sons. In a joint piece for The Times last week, they wrote that their children “need a future in which they can live and thrive, first and foremost as human beings but also as Palestinians and Israelis side by side. Neither of us is going anywhere, and therefore we must find a way to live together. . . Despite our personal pain we refuse to be enemies. Instead, we commit, as partners, to forging a better future.”

Among the speakers was Rabbi David Mason, executive director of HIAS+JCORE, a Jewish organisation that supports refugees and asylum-seekers; and Imam Monawar Hussain, founder of the Oxford Foundation, which seeks to promote interfaith harmony.

The gathering was opened by the Liberal Democrat MP for Oxford West and Abingdon, Layla Moran, who has Christian family members sheltering in Gaza (News, 10 November). “Like you all, I am heartbroken by what we are witnessing,” she said. “I was heartbroken on 7 October. I can only imagine the horror of that day.

“And I can only imagine the horror still of those burying loved ones, and of those still missing family members: 1200 souls, some of whom themselves fought for peace, killed in the most disgusting and degrading ways. There is no justification.

“But nor is there justification for the horrors that my family is living through in the West Bank and Gaza. Those in Gaza city are sheltering in a church. One has died already, not from a bomb, but from dehydration, and because he couldn’t get to a hospital. Another is sick from drinking contaminated water, and the building next door to them was bombed just yesterday.

“It feels like the lapping waves of death have reached my family, but I also know that it’s nothing compared to the horrors of others. Six thousand children now dead. What did they ever do to this world?

“We need to realise that every single innocent death is a failure. They have been failed by politicians, failed by those who forgot or didn’t try hard enough or used in this conflict to justify those politicians’ claim to power or their psychopathic desires. And this has to stop — and it will, because of us.”

The Labour MP for Walthamstow, Stella Creasy, quoted the Canadian writer Margaret Atwood (“War is what happens when language fails”), and accused politicians of “failing to find the words”. The people of Palestine and Israel were “paying the price for that failure”, but those gathered at the vigil were “the living embodiment of what, indeed, the suffragettes taught us: that it is deeds, not words. And it is the deed of standing here today, and refusing to give up.”

Tobias Ellwood, the Conservative MP for Bournemouth East and a former soldier, who has served as both a Defence Minister and chair of the Defence Select Committee, said: “Our message must be different from other public rallies — more nuanced, more unified, and more profound: a non-partisan, collective call, that we must not be bystanders, we cannot ignore what we are witnessing, because in today’s digital world it has lifted the fog of war,” The Daily Telegraph reported. “Everything is seen in real time.

“You can be supportive of the state and people of Israel and the Jewish faith here in Israel, but be critical of Israel’s use of its military might. And you can be supportive of a two-state solution, and the plight of the Palestinians, but be critical of Hamas, that has lost any claim to represent ordinary Palestinians.”

On Friday, the IDF bombardment of Gaza resumed, after negotiations over the release of hostages and Palestinian prisoners collapsed, ending a seven-day truce (News, 30 November). Addressing the gathering, Robi Damelin, an Israeli woman whose youngest son was killed by a Palestinian sniper in 2002 (Features, 22 December 2006; Comment, 29 May 2009), said that she had been “so happy when I thought I would be here during a ceasefire”. She thought of both Vivian Silver, the veteran peace activist killed on 7 October (News, 16 November), and about Palestinian mothers and children, running with no shelter.

“Why do you all have these wonderful opinions?” she asked. “These opinions are based not always on any knowledge, but it’s so nice to have an opinion. So, what I am thinking is, maybe instead of the opinion, you might look at another way. You might discover the life of a Palestinian who has lost somebody; you might discover the life of an Israeli who has lost somebody, or maybe even a hostage.

“And, when you have this great desire to give an opinion, instead give the story, because we have to hang on to our humanity.”

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