Jews living in the UK should be able to show their Jewish identity without fear of reprisal. Fear to do so is a ‘red line’ that we must not allow British society to cross.

It is the Jewish individual’s decision, of course, what he or she chooses to wear, but being targeted for being visibly Jewish is outrageous.  It is also a sad reflection of the level of antisemitism that Jews face in Britain today. Even the words themselves used by the police officer against a Jewish campaigner in London last weekend – ‘openly Jewish’ – is a phrase that we shouldn’t normalise. It implies that a person’s Jewish identity is better being private unless a person decides for it to be ‘in the open’. Imagine someone being accused of being ‘openly Muslim’ or ‘openly Christian’. That isn’t our custom here in Britain, and rightly so. In fact, the countries where Christians cannot be ‘openly Christian’, are places where both Christians (and Jews, for that matter) are subjected to persecution. The overwhelming majority of these countries happen to be Muslim-majority nations where Christians and Jews are considered infidels. In contrast, Israel is a place where Jews, Muslims and Christians are able to live openly and side-by-side.

Some may say that the police’s actions in London are only meant to protect visibly Jewish people from the aggressive and venomous anti-Jewish hate that the protests embody. This might be so, but antisemitism needs no provocation. It targets Jews whether their Jewishness is visible or not.

The case of Shai Davidai, a Columbia University professor, is a good example of this. His “offence” was not for being ‘openly Jewish’, but rather ‘openly spoken’, such is the nature of anti-Jewish oppression. Professor Davidai has been helping a peaceful counter-protest in response to the anti-Israel camp that has occupied the campus in the past week. The professor has been an outspoken opponent of the anti-Israel protests, calling them “pro-Hamas extremists”. This week the professor had his key-pass denied, meaning he couldn’t enter the campus. He has accused the university of being scared to stand up to the anti-Israel protests and for failing to protect the safety of their Jewish and Israeli students. Professor Davidai’s ordeal follows a warning from Elie Buechler, the campus rabbi, who told Jewish students at Columbia to stay at home because of the “level of hatred” they are forced to endure.

Antisemitism is not only a Jewish problem; it is everyone’s problem. That is why Christians must fight antisemitism together with our Jewish brothers and sisters. A ‘perfect storm’ of antisemitism is brewing and we cannot stand by and do nothing. The treatment of Jews in a society is often described as ‘a canary in a coalmine’. The phrase refers to the old-fashioned practice of a canary being carried into the mine tunnels, providing miners with an early warning method to detect dangerous gases.  It has long been a metaphor for the persecution of a minority that subsequently spreads to the general populace. The toxicity of antisemitism will affect Jews first, but it is an early warning message of a force that will ultimately affect us all.  

This was the same sentiment behind Prime Minister Netanyahu’s comments this week addressing the protests on American’ campuses:

“We’ve seen in history that antisemitic attacks were always preceded by vilification and slander, lies that were cast against the Jewish people that are unbelievable yet people believed them,” Netanyahu said.

“Now, what is important now is for all of us, all of us who are interested and cherish our values and our civilization, to stand up together and to say enough is enough. We have to stop antisemitism because antisemitism is the canary in the coal mine. It always precedes larger conflagrations that engulf the entire world.


“So I ask all of you, Jews and non-Jews alike, who are concerned with our common future and our common values to do one thing: Stand up, speak up, be counted. Stop antisemitism now.”

The UK Home Secretary, James Cleverly, assured Jewish groups in London this week about the safety of Jews in the UK. He stressed that not only should the community feel safe on London’s streets, but that they should also be able to “safely communicate their Jewishness publicly and visibly.”

“For Jews to hide their Judaism is a red line that cannot be crossed,” Cleverly said.

This red line has become worryingly close. It is understandable if, for many Jews, it feels that Britain already has crossed it.