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The British Jewish community won't silence our solidarity with Gaza

Young British Jews are facing a torrent of hatred from their own community for expressing solidarity with Gaza. And yet, more British Jews are struggling to see the values they hold reflected in the Israeli government.

By Rob Abrams

Left-wing Jews hold a protest in solidarity with Gaza, Parliament Square, London, May 16, 2018.

Left-wing Jews hold a protest in solidarity with Gaza, Parliament Square, London, May 16, 2018.

A group of mostly young British Jews took a large step forward in shifting the British Jewish community’s debate on Israel and the occupation this past week. Around 50 British Jews, shocked by the scale of death in Gaza, after Israeli snipers shot dead 60 Palestinians in a single day, gathered in Parliament Square in central London to name the dead and recite the kaddish, the Jewish mourner’s prayer.

Although this certainly wasn’t the first time we have spoken out against the violence unleashed on Gaza, this time felt notably different. Standing among us weren’t just the usual suspects from various left-wing Jewish groups such as the Jewish Socialist Group or Jewdas.. There were community leaders; youth movement counselors, rabbis, and young people engaged in their synagogues and communities.

This is reflective of a massive groundswell of change that has taken place within the community in recent years. Many British Jews, old and young alike, are struggling to see the values they hold reflected in an Israeli government that has long turned its back on them. Among my peers in the community, it is now relatively rare to find anyone not critical in some way of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinian people.

This makes sense. You can only spend so long teaching Jewish children biblical teachings of pursuing justice before they start asking why some in our community seem to interpret this as “justice for some.” Whether theologically correct or not, their Judaism is built on the notion of “justice for all.”

So why have they waited until now to speak out? Because the stick is far bigger than the carrot. As we stood in Parliament Square, we were helpless to prevent a small number of far-right activists from documenting us. Subsequently, the week since has been a disturbing reminder of the following fact; when a British Jew steps out of line, the full weight of the community will fall on them.



We had barely left the square before videos appeared online, published by the Israel Advocacy Network, accusing us of being terrorist sympathizers. Community leaders took the bait and instead of holding dialogue on the issue, the floodgates were opened for a torrent of abuse. The chairman of the Campaign Against Antisemitism publicly described us as a “sickness” and suffering from Stockholm Syndrome, clearly unaware of the ironic connotations of his language. Some, including prominent anti-Palestinian blogger David Collier, called for us to be “named and shamed.” Much of our community was happy to oblige.

Organizers and attendees have since received direct threats. Comments on social media have encouraged us, among other things, to commit suicide. Individuals have been reprimanded in their workplaces and places of study and had their livelihoods threatened. Things got so bad that even Palestinian friends got in touch to express solidarity.

The vitriol has arrived to the point that some senior community figures have now stepped in to call a halt to the abuse. Rabbi Laura Janner Klausner, senior Rabbi of the Reform movement in the UK published an article on the front page of Jewish News this week pleading with those attacking us to stop. It is unlikely that they will heed this call.

Pro-Israel rally, Trafalgar Square, London, 11 January, 2009. (photo: Chris Beckett CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

A pro-Israel rally in London’s Trafalgar Square, January 2009. (photo: Chris Beckett CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Our detractors claim we are desecrating Jewish practice by using the kaddish prayer. In his article against us, Gideon Falter of the Campaign Against Antisemitism recalls the heartbreak felt by those who say this prayer for lost loved ones. As he describes it: “It is a prayer steeped in sadness.” I could not agree more. We undertook an action that was designed to make people feel uncomfortable.

Saying kaddish was an expression of our profound heartbreak at senseless loss of life and a community that seems to have given up on the project of peace and justice in Israel-Palestine. It is all too clear that an end to the suffering in Gaza will continue to be delayed as long as we are too blinded by our own to take brave steps in grappling with the pain and loss of the Palestinian people.

I do not know now if I am more scared of how dark our immediate future looks, or excited by how rattled our opponents are. But now that our faces have been fully exposed, one thing is certain. They can no longer silence us.

Rob Abrams is a Jewish anti-occupation activist from London.

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    1. The concerned citizen

      Well done. We faced the same onslaught in South Africa when we could no longer stand on the sidewalk and watch people get murdered as is happening in Palestine everyday.

      Our lives, livelihood, families and jobs were at risk. We stood the test of time and apartheid was brought down.

      Join the masses who stand for justice and peace. Let them lend a helping and supportive hand in your struggles.

      Remember when you are singled out you become weak and scared but when you have a support base nothing matters.


      Reply to Comment
    2. Derik Palmer

      Thank you for your courage in making such a stand. It is a relatively simple step for someone like myself, a non-Jew, to stand against the murderous policies of the Israeli government; much harder to publicly protest in the face of your own community. When I joined a public protest the worst thing to happen was that a man wearing a kippah called me a ‘fucking goy’ ad told me to ‘keep my nose out of other peoples business’. I imagine the potential sanctions for someone withing the Jewish community could be rather more severe.

      Reply to Comment
    3. John

      Well despite all of the conflicting information, there are at least 3 truths that zio-racists cannot obscure, and are thereby condemned :
      1, Palestine was never invaded by Palestinians, so we know where the aggression originated.
      2. If we know who does most killing of innocents, we can know who does most to provoke the next round of violence, and who has most reason to retaliate. 3. The argument that requires people who have never been to israel, cannot know what they are talking about requires double standards, from people who require everyone under 73 years old, to accept the historical fact that the holocaust is a historical fact.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Nigel L

      How dare you claim to represent a large groundswell. The vast majority of Anglo Jewry are sickened by your stunt. For every one comment saying bravo to you, there are hundreds decrying your saying Kaddish for 50 plus terrorists.
      Have you, once , in your life, said Kaddish for one of the victims of Hamas or Islamic Jihad ?
      Thought not –
      Why ?
      You have brought shame on the Zionist Left and i Sincerely hope that the Jewish Agency and WZO from who provide licenses for activities inside of Israel revoke them for all groups who do not condemn anti Jewish terror. Indeed, I hope you are never allowed back into ISRAEL AS A TERROR SYMPATHISER.
      You speak for very few
      The groups you claim as right wing are made up of a whole collection of people axcross the political spectrum. They represent mainstream views more than you and your narrow band of imbeciles ever will.
      Grow up

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        Nigel: This is just more of the incontinent torrent of abuse and vitriol Rob Abrams describes. How has Rob Abrams “brought shame” on anyone? It is you who are attempting, frantically and unpersuasively, to shame and silence Abrams. You sound like you have a guilty conscience. As Abrams says, he has definitely rattled you. But you can no longer silence him.

        Reply to Comment
    5. David

      Must watch:
      Video: Noura Erakat: “How are Palestinians reacting to the US embassy in Jerusalem & violence in Gaza?” CBS news May 16/18

      Canada’s CBC Television’s Wendy Mesley interviews NYT reporter Ken Vogel re Sheldon Adelson and Canada’s former PM, Stephen Harper, et al, about their support for Israel.

      Must read:
      “As mass killings horrify the world, Netanyahu’s circle dwindles”
      By columnist, Doug Saunders, Canada’s Globe and Mail, May 16/18

      “To Arabs, Jerusalem represents the symbolic denial of freedom”
      By H.A. Hellyer, Canada’s Globe and Mail, May 16/18

      Reply to Comment