An open letter to Britain’s Muslim and Jewish communities by Afzal Khan MP and Alex Sobel MP
Islam and Judaism have a long shared and complex history. The Qu’ran and the Tanakh speak of our common patriarch, Abraham/Ibrahim, whose sons Ishmael and Isaac forged separate paths to the establishment of each faith. This neat, if simplistic, analogy of two siblings parting ways is at the heart of our collective past.
All over the world, we have lived together for more than a thousand years. And today, we find Muslim and Jewish communities living harmoniously side by side in Manchester, Leeds and right across the UK.
Our shared history binds us together and yet sometimes it appears to drive us apart.
It is in Jerusalem that our histories converge most abruptly and together, we have looked on in horror and heartbreak as the recent events in Jerusalem and across Israel and Palestine have unfolded.
The forced eviction of Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah, protests by the extremist Kahanists and the shocking scenes at Al-Aqsa mosque have rocked Jerusalem and its residents. Hamas has fired an indiscriminate and continuous hail of rockets at Israel, while retaliatory airstrikes by Benjamin Netanyahu’s government have rained down on Gaza.
But as always, it is innocent civilians who paid the price, with the death toll now well over 200, including countless children. While the majority of those killed were Palestinian, we mourn every death as a tragedy and recognise the toll this conflict has wreaked on all citizens in Israel and Palestine.
Any ceasefire must herald a renewed international effort for meaningful and lasting peace. To achieve this, the international community must ensure innocent civilians, be they Israeli or Palestinian, are protected and supported to rebuild their lives and embrace a new era of reconciliation and unity.
This latest escalation follows decades of violence, occupation and settlement, of mistrust and religious hate. Britain’s Muslims and Jews look back at Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat shaking hands on the White House lawn in 1993 as a moment of hope, but this hope was snatched away by those benefiting from division and war.
This conflict is acutely painful for our communities and the feelings and sentiments evoked are as complicated as the geopolitical realities that underpin the violence.
Our message to Britain’s Muslims and Jews – our friends, our neighbours – is simple: despite our emotional turmoil, we cannot and should not hold each other responsible for the events in the Middle East. Just as the Jewish communities in Prestwich or Alwoodley are not responsible for the actions of Netanyahu’s government, neither are Muslims in Longsight or Harehills responsible for the actions of Hamas.
This may appear to be common sense – something that should not need to be said. But each time violence escalates in the Middle East we see a rise in antisemitic and Islamophobic incidents in the UK. Last week, the Community Security Trust recorded a fivefold increase in the number of antisemitic incidents reported over the past few weeks, while in the same period Tell Mama recorded a 430% in reports of anti-Muslim hate. Social media has – characteristically – become a cesspit of antisemitic and Islamophobic abuse.
Beyond the borders of our communities, a sophisticated far-right online campaign based on tropes and conspiracies tries to pit us against each other, but let’s be clear: being an adherent of any religion does not make you personally responsible for the actions of those who also profess your faith, abroad or at home.
There is no place for antisemitism or Islamophobia in our society and we must not allow the poison of such hate to grow in our country as result of the conflict raging in the Middle East. Muslims and Jews are all too often subject to racism and conspiracy, together and apart. We cannot afford to turn on each other.
We must stand together as communities for peace, justice and reconciliation in Israel and Palestine. For while the sons of Abraham/Ibrahim never had an easy relationship, family, after all, is family.
Originally published in The Guardian on Saturday 22 May 2021.