I am a proud British Jew. But now, I feel nervous.
I have always been immensely proud of my Judaism and have never hidden it. I have been equally proud to be British and I adore London. Now, it seems dangerous.
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This is a guest essay written by Gemma Frenchman.
One hundred and ten days have passed since October 7th, that horrific day, etched in my memory forever, when the world witnessed — yes, witnessed, thanks to Hamas’ GoPro filming of their barbaric attacks — a modern day pogrom, killing more Jews on any one day since the Holocaust.
I wake each day to scroll through the latest stories with the heaviest of hearts, a sinking feeling in my stomach and a constant lump in my throat, tears ready to fall without warning. And terror.
Yes, even some 2,000 miles from the sites of the most egregious violation of innocent civilian lives, I feel terror. And so do my peers. In London, we are frightened and shocked. The safe world in which we believed we lived does not seem so safe for us now. There is no downtime anymore; in every spare moment, we are glued to our phones, searching, hoping and praying for chinks of good news.
We are also watching for bad news; murdered hostages, more rockets, more terrorist attacks, and the war’s utter devastation. We are unable to focus on anything but the 1,200 victims of October 7th, the 136 hostages, some of whom were raped and tortured before being kidnapped and continue to be sexually abused and tortured in captivity, and the many hundreds of fallen IDF soldiers.
They are our brothers and sisters. That’s how we Jews are brought up; one people, one family, even though the 16 million of us (just 0.2 percent of the world’s population) are scattered across the globe.
Hamas, a proscribed terrorist organization, has publicized its goal: to destroy Israel and exterminate all Jews. That’s right, all Jews. That means me. My husband. My parents. My children. My sister and her family. My friends. All Jews. If you are not Jewish, please try to understand how it feels to know that people want to kill you. It is a desperate feeling. It is how my great-grandparents felt in 1930s Hungary.
I am a British Jew with multi-national, multi-racial friends, who has travelled the world, with my roots firmly in London. One of my great-grandparents was murdered by Nazis in the Bergen-Belsen gas chambers, and another was hidden by heroic nuns in a Budapest convent for two years, to avoid the same fate. What would they think if they knew that their family was threatened by the same vitriolic beliefs some 80 years later?
Since the terrorist attacks in Israel on October 7th, it has struck me that the reactions across the globe have been extraordinarily different from the reactions to 9/11.
When Al-Qaeda attacked the United States, murdering 3,000 and leaving the world reeling, consensus was that Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaeda should be eliminated. This led to the longest-ever U.S. war (nearly 20 years) and casualties as follows: 7,000 U.S. soldiers; 100,000 Afghani civilians, military, and police; and 51,000 Taliban and other opposition fighters.
Those demanding “ceasefire in Gaza now” and joining pro-Palestinian marches did not take to the streets then demanding “ceasefire in Afghanistan now.” They did not ask U.S. presidents Bush, Obama, or Trump to stop. They did not they justify Al-Qaeda’s actions on 9/11 as resistance or freedom fighting.
For those who try to rationalize or justify Hamas’ despicable attacks on October 7th, or question Israel’s right to defend herself by destroying Hamas (and therefore protecting the world from future terrorist attacks), why is the public reaction is so different from 9/11?
The high-profile individuals and organizations who have spoken out against Israel have seemingly green-lighted swathes of people to openly express antisemitic and anti-Zionist feelings. Jews have seen a 1,500-percent increase in antisemitic acts in the UK since October 7th. University campuses are rife with antisemitic protests, including students chanting “death to the Jews.”
In Tower Hamlets, east London, hordes of schoolchildren were taken out of school, supposedly to march in solidarity with Palestinian children, but they chanted “Israel is a terror state” and held placards of anti-Zionist and antisemitic rhetoric as they walked through our streets.
I have always been immensely proud of my Judaism and have never hidden it. I have been equally proud to be British and I adore London. Now, I feel nervous. Wearing my Star of David necklace suddenly feels dangerous here. Taking our children to central London feels dangerous. Even my daily commute seems dangerous, faced with large crowds protesting in every mainline London train station.
Over the last 14 weekends, hundreds of thousands have joined pro-Palestinian marches through central London, and there has been an intimidating, aggressive atmosphere during some of these.
Many do not understand what they are marching for, what happened on October 7th, or what Hamas stands for. This lack of understanding, knowledge, and empathy, coupled with the feeling of being threatened, is a grave concern — I am worried about raising my children in this environment — an environment of hatred, ignorance, racism, and antisemitism.
Discussions with friends regularly feature our concern for our families’ safe future in the UK. Israel is our spiritual homeland and I love it there, but I want to live in London. I don’t want to have to run away or hide who I am. Who I am is a British Jew bringing up two British Jewish children. I don’t want to ever question our safety because of our religion and culture.
But the TikTok generation is listening to the mass rhetoric and propaganda, to the millions of voices chanting venomous, antisemitic words on our screens. This war is also a media war; fake news dominates the headlines, and it is uncomfortable.
Traditional and social media platforms, far more powerful in 2023 than in 1933, offer biased reporting. The BBC, having supported all the pro-Palestinian marches, banned its staff from attending the one march against antisemitism, and the police have a pusillanimous approach when faced with undeniably antisemitic acts. This leaves us vulnerable, with diluted confidence in a safe future in the UK.
Hamas has publicly declared that it will continue to carry out monstrous attacks to fulfill its objective. They will come for all of us, wherever we are. And not only Jews; those in other minorities including LBGTQ+ communities are targets too. If we don’t curb this antisemitism, October 7th will happen again and again and again, possibly in Britain next time.
Antisemitism has existed for thousands of years. It is always bubbling away, a light sleeper, with its bandwagon parked in the lay-by, the key in the ignition, and the getaway driver strapped in, ready to collect the masses.
My fellow British Jews and I need to know that we have a safe home here and that future generations of children will never need to fear another October 7th massacre, nor antisemitism on our streets.
Every Shabbat, I will continue to light extra candles and set extra places at our table until the hostages come home.
It is utterly devastating to see such destruction and the tragic loss of so many innocent lives. I deeply regret the war. It is entirely possible, however, to simultaneously regret the war and to feel strongly that it is a necessary evil to prevent a proscribed terrorist organization from committing more barbaric atrocities that could affect any one of us.
We will continue to pray for peace in the Middle East and no further civilian casualties, as I continue to fight for my Jewish children to be safe in the UK, or wherever they choose to live.