‘There are not 2 sides,’ British PM Rishi Sunak says at synagogue as London is split by pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian protests


LONDON (JTA) — British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said that his government’s support for Israel was “unequivocal” in an address at a synagogue on Monday night, as Britain’s Jewish community counted its dead and missing from Hamas’ attacks on Israel and protesters clashed at a pro-Palestinian rally in London.

British leaders from across the political spectrum issued an almost unanimous declaration of support for Israel on Monday, capped by Sunak’s attendance at a service at the Finchley United Synagogue in North London.

“I am unequivocal,” Sunak told a packed audience. “There are not two sides to these events. There is no question of balance. I stand with Israel. We stand with Israel. The United Kingdom stands with Israel.”

There are believed to be more than 10 British Jews dead or missing from the Hamas raids on towns near the Gaza Strip, including 20-year-old Nathanel Young, who was killed while serving with the Israeli military on Saturday.

The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, the United Kingdom’s equivalent of a foreign affairs ministry, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that it was “in contact with – and assisting – the families of several individuals in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.” There are thought to be between 50,000 to 60,000 Britons and dual nationals living in Israel and Gaza.

Sunak had earlier told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that London was prepared to provide Israel with “diplomatic, intelligence, or security support” to meet the challenge posted by Hamas.

Also among those thought to have been killed are photographer Danny Darlington, who went into hiding in a bunker in Nir Oz, a kibbutz near to the frontier with Gaza. “Our community has been destroyed,” his sister said in a tribute.

Another British-Jewish man, Jack Marlowe, had been providing security at the music festival near Kibbutz Re’im that came under attack from Hamas. He has not been heard from since.

The Palace of Westminster, home to the British parliament, was lit up in Israeli colors on Monday night, along with the building that houses the FCDO. The prime minister’s residence at 10 Downing Street had had an Israeli flag beamed onto its walls on Sunday evening.

A protester holds a flare at a pro-Palestinian rally in London, Oct. 9, 2023. (Wiktor Szymanowicz/Future Publishing via Getty Images)

Thousands gathered for two dueling demonstrations in London starting on Monday afternoon. Around 5,000 people attended a vigil in memory of those killed in the attacks near 10 Downing Street. Thousands of Israelis and British Jews were joined by senior politicians from Britain’s three main political parties. Many were draped in Israeli flags and told JTA that they were attending as a show of support for family and friends in Israel.

Jacob Ziff, 26, who attended the vigil, said that “this horrible time has brought Jews closer together.”

U.K. Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, who addressed the gathering, said that the “message of the Jews of the Diaspora” was that “your fate is our fate, your destiny is our destiny.”

Mirvis was followed by senior Conservative politicians, including Tom Tugendhat, Robert Jenrick and Iain Duncan Smith, as well as the leader of the Liberal Democrats Ed Davey and Shadow Foreign Secretary David Lammy of the Labour Party.

Lammy said there could be “no mincing of words with terror” and invoked Moses as he demanded that Hamas release the British and Israeli hostages that it was holding. “Someone once said: set my people free! Release them now!”

Lammy, who returned to London from his party’s annual conference in Liverpool, has called for a policing “surge” to protect local Jews.  He wrote in Monday’s Jewish Chronicle that “Security is the meaning of solidarity.”

There was a reinforced police presence around Westminster as the vigil took place, although there were a small number of interruptions by individual protestors as the Mirvis spoke.

In West London, outside the Israeli embassy, thousands attended a demonstration condemning Israel. Protesters blocked the main road that runs alongside Hyde Park as demonstrators let off fireworks and flares amid a thicket of placards and Palestinian flags.

“Israel is a terror state,” demonstrators chanted as the street became cloaked in smoke. “From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be free.”

Some protesters clashed with a number of pro-Israel counter-demonstraters at the entrance to the nearby High Street Kensington underground train station before they were separated by police.

The Community Security Trust, an organization that provides security to Britain’s Jewish community, said that it was already “seeing incidents of racist antisemitism against Jewish people and property” following the attacks in Israel.

The Metropolitan Police said that they would be increasing patrols across “key areas of London” to “reassure and protect.” There had been reports of abuse and celebratory music being blasted from cars in various parts of London after the news of the attacks from Israel broke.

In Golders Green, a heavily Jewish area of North London, a railway bridge that bisects a main road was tagged with graffiti reading “Free Palestine.”

A nearby kosher restaurant, Pita, had its doors smashed early on Monday morning, although authorities have not yet concluded whether it was an antisemitic attack. The Metropolitan Police said that they had received CCTV footage from the restaurant and that the incident was not being treated as a hate crime “at this stage.”

Mike Freer, the area’s member of parliament, told The Telegraph that he believed that the attack was “more than coincidental and that it couldn’t be anything other than antisemitic.”

The Palace of Westminster, the home of the U.K. houses of parliament in London, is lit up in the colors of Israel’s flag for victims and hostages of Hamas attacks, Oct. 9, 2023. (Lucy North/PA Images via Getty Images)

“I hope I’m proved wrong but I think the timing is too coincidental for it to be anything other than an antisemitic attack,” he said.

As concerns about potential antisemitic attacks rose, the Jewish Free School, one of London’s more prominent Jewish schools, told parents that it was making wearing blazers “optional for the next week.”

“The most important thing is ensure the safe passage of students between home and school and to make sure that this school is set up to care for our children during the school day,” the email read, adding that there would be no detention so that all students could access school buses.

Addressing concerns from within the Jewish community about antisemitism and violence towards the community, Sunak told those gathered in north London: “We have already seen vile words on our streets and efforts to stir up community tensions. I say: not here. Not in Britain.”

“My first duty is to protect you. We will not tolerate this hate,” he said. “We will not tolerate this antisemitism. I promise you: I will stop at nothing to keep you safe.”

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