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'Israel has a right to defend itself!'

November 03, 2023 14:04 IST

'There is a difference in how people across the world react to terrorist attacks inside Israel and how they react to similar atrocities if they were to unfold elsewhere in the West.'

IMAGE: A protest in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza in London, October 28, 2023. Photograph: Susannah Ireland/Reuters

It will be a month on Tuesday, November 7, 2023, since the Hamas terrorist attacks inside Israel, at the end of which 1,405 Israelis were left dead while over 200 more were taken back to Gaza as hostages.

In the intervening weeks, Israel's retaliatory strikes on Gaza have taken over the news cycle, and much of the world's focus has been on the deaths of thousands of Palestinian civilians and the unfolding humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza.

There have been protests around the world about the Israeli bombardment of Gaza, while there has been little attention paid to another aspect of this morally complicated conflict: The rise in antisemitic incidents targeting Jewish communities across the world.

In this second in a series exploring what it is like to be a Jew outside of Israel at this time, we present the perspective of a British Jew, who has requested to stay anonymous to protect their privacy, as told to Siddhu Warrier.


"My first reaction to the atrocities unfolding across Israel on the 7th of October was one of total horror which I imagine would have been the reaction of every single person, Jewish or not, to the events.

The targeting of innocent civilians in this barbaric and horrific way is only reminiscent of ISIS.

What we mustn't forget is that Hamas is a proscribed terror organisation which has never accepted the existence of Israel and vowed to erase it.

There is a difference in how people across the world react to terrorist attacks inside Israel and how they react to similar atrocities if they were to unfold elsewhere in the West.

This is probably because Israel's policies in recent years have been quite hardline, and people sometimes feel that these policies are in some ways a justification for barbaric attacks of this kind.

There is perhaps this sense that Israel is a powerful country that controls this minority living within its borders, and the kinds of murderous, barbaric scenes we witnessed on the 7th of October are a retaliation that Israel deserves.

There is also, of course, a difference in how people perceive attacks on people that are not themselves: The number of column inches devoted to a tragedy involving British people is often greater than that devoted to one involving Europeans, which in turn is significantly more than that if the tragedy affected African people.

IMAGE: David Barr, whose sister-in-law was killed by Hamas, and Ayelet Svatitzky at a press conference of family members of British-Israeli kidnap victims at the Israeli embassy in London, October 24, 2023. Photograph: Hannah McKay/Reuters

But it was not just Jews who were killed in these attacks.

There were young people from all over the world at the music festival; there were also many Thai migrant workers who were killed.

What people need to realise is that if it can happen to kids over there, it can happen anywhere.

What a lot of people miss is that there is a large section of Israeli society that do not agree with what the current government have been doing in relation to the Palestinian people.

It is a hard-right government that is subject to a lot of influence by religious parties.

IMAGE: Palestinian flags seen before the soccer game between Crystal Palace and Tottenham Hotspur at Selhurst Park, London, October 27, 2023. Photograph: Toby Melville/Reuters

In Britain, at least from a governmental perspective, I felt the reaction was certainly more supportive in the wake of these attacks than they have been before.

For instance, our parliament and government buildings were lit up in the colours of the Israeli flag.

Rishi Sunak [Britain's prime minister] issued a strongly worded condemnation of the attack, using the word 'terrorists' to describe Hamas.

The word 'terrorist' is one that the BBC refuses to use, using the word 'militants' instead.

Not to use the word "terrorist" in this context to refer to Hamas is just not acceptable!

IMAGE: A boy holds a Palestinian flag as demonstrators protest in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza in London, October 28, 2023. Photograph: Susannah Ireland/Reuters

I have personally been very fortunate in that I have never experienced antisemitism myself.

Britain is a wonderful country that affords a degree of tolerance and acceptance to all minorities in a way that is second to none -- the idea of banning pro-Palestinian demonstrations like France or Germany did is unacceptable to us, given how strongly we value freedom of speech.

However, there has certainly been an increase in antisemitism on the streets of Britain [since the Hamas attacks].

The statistics bear them out: For instance, Jewish schools in London were closed because they did not feel they could keep the children safe [on Friday, October 13, 2023, which was declared a 'Global Day of Jihad' by former Hamas leader Khaled Mashal].

IMAGE: A human chain outside the Qatar embassy in London, October 29, 2023, calling for the release of Israeli hostages being held by Hamas. Photograph: Maja Smiejkowska/Reuters

Some people in Britain, especially those on the left, are quite anti-Zionist [Zionism was a movement that emerged in the 19th century to establish a Jewish homeland in Palestine], and this anti-Zionism can sometimes veer into antisemitism.

Since the Jews are a very small minority in the UK -- there's only about 300,000 of us -- I am often the only Jew in a situation, and sometimes find myself hiding the fact that I am Jewish.

In another instance, just the other day, a family member who is a psychology student in the UK found herself having to hide that she was the only Jewish student in a class about oppression and identity, though she was absolutely devastated by the terrorist attacks in Israel.

This is because Jews in the UK are not seen as a minority that deserve protection like other minorities because we are seen as wealthy and powerful.

IMAGE: A vandalised Kosher restaurant in Golders Green in London, October 9, 2023, with 'Free Palestine' painted on it. Photograph: Anna Gordon/Reuters

If there was one thing I wish non-Jewish people around the world would understand about the conflict, it is this.

Israel was formed in 1948 in response to the annihilation of European Jewry during the Second World War; because the Jews that survived the Holocaust had nowhere to go and nobody wanted to take them.

At the end of the day, Israel is a legitimate, sovereign, democratic State surrounded by many countries that have never accepted its existence and have vowed to annihilate it -- it has a right to defend itself!"

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/