Imagine having armed guards at Sunday services, or keeping the location of your church coffee morning a secret for fear of abuse or violent attack. It may seem unimaginable, but this is the reality for many Jews in the UK. Now, more than ever, Christians must show solidarity, says James Roberts
The recent terror attacks in Israel and the ensuing conflict across Israel and Gaza have shocked the world. For all people caught up in the conflict, this is a terrifying and heart-breaking time.
For people in the UK, the situation is also deeply worrying. British Jews may be anxious for friends and family in the region. They may have loved ones who are in danger, who have been enlisted in the war, or even taken hostage or killed.
On top of this, Jewish people in the UK may be feeling anxious about an increase in antisemitism. Sadly, there is a strong correlation between conflict in Israel-Palestine and a rise in antisemitic incidents in the UK. Jewish communities may be targeted with abuse and indiscriminately blamed for the actions of Israel at this time.
A rise in antisemitism
There have been antisemitic incidents which have recently made the headlines. A few days ago, a restaurant in Golders Green (an area of London with a large Jewish population) was smashed and ‘Free Palestine’ graffiti daubed on a nearby railway bridge. Recent pro-Palestine rallies in Manchester and Australia have incited hatred and encouraged attacks on Jewish people.
Behind the headlines, there are also well-founded fears and anxieties within the Jewish community which Christians may not be aware of.
On Sunday evening, Jewish schools shared with parents the increased security measures which they would be taking. These precautions included allowing students not to wear their school blazers, in case their uniform is recognised as belonging to a Jewish school and they are subject to antisemitic abuse. After-school detentions have been cancelled in some Jewish schools so that students can take official school buses home rather than travelling on public transport. As a result, some parents seriously considered whether or not to send their children into school on Monday morning.
There is a strong correlation between conflict in Israel-Palestine and a rise in antisemitic incidents in the UK
Precautions against antisemitism are not just being taken in schools. Jewish community groups (such as Jewish societies on University campuses) may no longer advertise their events publicly. In fact, university campuses can be very hostile environments for Jewish students. At the Council of Christians and Jews (CCJ), we have heard reports of Jewish student societies receiving online abuse since the conflict increased.
To support Jewish communities around the UK, Police presence has been stepped up in Jewish areas. This protection is supported by the Community Security Trust (CST) which exists to provide security and advice for Jewish communal institutions, schools and synagogues, working with the police and government. CST have been meeting with the home secretary and politicians about protection for Jewish people, and security at synagogues will remain high.
Sadly, not all of this is new. Synagogues always have security guards. Jewish places of worship have often been targets of antisemitic abuse and violence, which is why security is needed. Similarly, exact locations of Jewish community events are rarely shared publicly for security reasons. During the pandemic, this was a particular issue. Some online Zoom events were disrupted by uninvited guests shouting antisemitic abuse.
For many Christians this is a surprise, and hard to come to terms with – imagine having a security guard at church every Sunday morning, or not being able to share the location of a coffee morning or Bible study publicly for fear that your congregation may be the target of abuse!
Jewish places of worship have often been targets of antisemitic abuse and violence
Although many of these concerns are not new, when conflict in Israel-Palestine increases, all of this gets worse for Jews in the UK.
What can Christians do?
There are certain things which we can bear in mind, to show interfaith solidarity with our Jewish friends and neighbours.
Firstly, it’s important for Christians to recognise that Jews in the UK may be afraid, grieving or anxious. It’s vital that we listen to their fears and concerns, and offer support where we can. Friendship is at the heart of interfaith engagement, so now is an important time to send a message to Jewish friends and neighbours to check in with them and see how they are doing.
Secondly, if you witness antisemitism, report it - either to the CST or the Police.
Finally, pray for peace, for the safety of all people in Israel-Palestine, and an end to conflict.
Christians and Jews may hold varied, diverse and often conflicting views about the Israel-Palestine conflict, even within their respective faith communities. At this time, as people are anxious and grieving, it’s important that we hold onto our shared humanity, recognise the hurt that people are feeling, and reach out in compassion across our divides.