I am a British Jew, which means that until October 7, I considered myself one of the luckiest Jews ever born. We are the only intact community in Europe: the only one without a roll of names at Yad Vashem.
Elsewhere in Europe you will walk through empty or half-empty Jewish quarters—in Venice, Vienna, and the endless graveyard that is Poland—but not here in London. Golders Green, our shopping district in the north part of the city, bustles as it always has. From the ultra-Orthodox of Stamford Hill to the Liberal Jews of St John’s Wood, we have thrived.
For years, British Jews have looked at the tiny or lost Jewish communities in continental Europe with a preening, and now, I think, almost despicable pride. We were certain—I was, anyway—that the fabled British exceptionalism had extended to a love of its Jews.
We would not, we tend to think, have been betrayed had the Nazis landed in 1940: our neighbors would have fought for us. We are model immigrants. We study at famous schools and universities. We endow opera houses and art galleries. Our most famous synagogue—Bevis Marks in the City of London—looks like a church. Lord Rothschild is a patron of the arts, and no British aristocrat is as finely shod, housed, or spoken. Our chief rabbi is a friend of Charles III. We are conservative, slightly muted (I once called us “a pale triumph” and I still think I’m right), and loyal. We have believed, until now, that loyalty goes two ways.
In all this, we took pride. Too much pride, it turns out. Maybe false pride.
The last month has been an awakening. After October 7, when Hamas slaughtered 1,400 innocent Israelis, I have felt unsafe as a Jew, rather than merely unusual, for the first time in my life. On X, I have been told Hitler was right and that I am a demonic entity. In London, anti-Jewish hate crime spiked by 1,350 percent in the first half of October, and my pride—my relationship with the country in which I was born—has been shattered. None of us will be the same again.
I’m a journalist who writes about antisemitism, and so, when a march for Palestine was called in central London on October 28, I went. The huge crowd was an eclectic mix that included Muslim families, assorted far-leftists, the young, and the old. For some attendees, the cause seemed to be little more than a passing fashion related to a vague idea of “anti-colonialism.” For others, it was something much more serious.
Some of it was righteous concern for the Palestinians: I do not doubt that. Some of it, though, was classic early-Christian Jew hate, brought forward in time: the Jew thinks itself exceptional; the Jew can do no good. (That this belief stems from the Christ-killing but is now unconsciously imbued by secular progressives makes me laugh. But laughter will take you only so far nowadays.)
Some of this sentiment comes from elements of the British Muslim population, who suffer alienation of their own in the UK. Some of it is straightforwardly Hitlerite: a banner hung by a protester outside the prime minister’s residence read, “Zionism is the disease.” And a disease needs a cure.
People forget that at Auschwitz-Birkenau, Jews were murdered with pesticide. They shouldn’t.
At the rally, people chanted: “O Jews, the army of Muhammed is coming.” And: “Intifada.” And: “From the river to the sea / Palestine will be free.” People say that the last phrase does not call for the destruction of the Jewish state—some say it implies two states, or a thriving single rainbow state—but Hamas is clear about its meaning.
A sign showed Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu holding the leashes of dogs (Joe Biden, British prime minister Rishi Sunak, and EU leader Ursula von der Leyen). Puppet master becomes dog owner. There were baby dolls painted with blood and a coffin with writing on it that referred to the Warsaw Ghetto.
I saw posters with Netanyahu portrayed as Adolf Hitler and comparisons between Nazis and Israelis. Jews-as-Nazis is a popular taunt in Europe because it is self-protective. If you decide that the Jews deserved it, being Nazis themselves, you will sleep better at night.
I trust people’s words. And so I trust the normal-looking woman with a sign that said: “Resistance by any means necessary.” I am ashamed that I did not rebuke her for endorsing the torture of children. I was too frightened. I wonder whether anyone rebuked her. “Stop using antisemitism,” said one woman’s sign. And: “Stop using the Holocaust.”
The Jewish people came to these British islands with William the Conqueror in 1066. We lent him money, and he protected us. But the Crusades and other crises radicalized the Christian majority. Pogroms were carried out in London and York. The blood libel—the fantasy that Jews kill Christian children for their blood to make bread—was invented in Norwich in 1144. It was an early example of the antisemitic dynamic: the people of Norwich, which is fatally ordinary, were special for a time, because, wretched though they were, they were not Jews.
In 1290, Edward I expelled us—733 years ago last month, the first European expulsion—though some ships’ captains left us on sandbanks at the mouth of the Thames to drown when the tide came in. We were readmitted by Oliver Cromwell in 1656, but the edict of expulsion has never been rescinded.
Jews came from Eastern Europe in large numbers during the 1880s after Tsarist pogroms. Smaller numbers fled the continent in the 1930s and made glittering contributions to British culture. Britain is proud that it admitted 10,000 Jewish children from Germany—the Kindertransport—in the 1930s, but their parents were excluded. Immigration to British-controlled Palestine was limited, and, after the Zionist paramilitaries of the Irgun murdered British soldiers in Palestine in 1946–47, anti-Jewish riots erupted in Liverpool, Glasgow, and Manchester.
But since then, there has not been much antisemitic sentiment to speak of. The hatred that British Jews once felt strongly had gone quiet.
Until now. When Jeremy Corbyn, who has called Hamas his “friends,” led the Labour Party between 2015 and 2020, mainstream British Jews struggled to explain how fair criticism of Israel can easily segue into a brand of medieval-style antisemitism in which devil Jews can do no right and must be expelled, eradicated, expunged. It is obvious now that, though Corbyn was exposed and has no material power, the idea still does. It is rampaging across the continent as it has done periodically for centuries. It is a truism that antisemitism is always different, and it is always the same: in Europe, we wait to see how different it will be in the early twenty-first century—and how similar.
As news of the October 7 massacre spread, there was a race to blame the victim. The charge was led by a tiny number of young British far-left Jews, who offer succor and concealment to non-Jewish antisemites and love to do so. I suspect that this is rooted in family dynamics, but it is impossible to say, as they do not seem to know themselves why they do it. One called the massacre “a day of celebration” (she later apologized). Another said, “Shabbat shalom and may every colonizer fall everywhere.” (He did not apologize.) According to the spin, the massacres went from being appalling to unfortunate to excusable in short order. Defamation of Jews thrived online and seeped into real life.
In Germany, Stars of David are painted on Jewish houses to identify them. In France, the door of an elderly Jewish couple’s apartment was set on fire, and Jewish lawmakers require police protection. In Spain, a Jewish-owned hotel is surrounded by a mob.
In Amsterdam, where tourists flock to see the home of Anne Frank, Jewish schools closed for a day. I have wondered where the millions who have read and loved Anne’s diary have been in these last few weeks. Perhaps it was always entertainment for them, as I suspected, for I do not hear their outrage now.
In the meantime, children in London are afraid to wear blazers that make clear they attend Jewish schools. Some of this is paranoia, but we have been paranoid before, and we were right. After all, we are a community of refugees. We just forgot it. British Jews have stopped wearing yarmulkes outdoors. Families fret about the mezuzah on the doorframe. A Jewish school was defaced with red paint.
College students in Manchester, I’ve been told, were too frightened to go to a vigil for Israeli hostages; one hid his Star of David necklace. In London, students awoke to news that their teachers’ union had endorsed “intifada until victory” and a “mass uprising.” In Oxford, Jewish students fear to say that they are Jewish. Student WhatsApp groups insult their Jewish cohort; there is no discussion allowed of a two-state solution, or hostage negotiations, or peace. The word Gaza was scrawled in red paint on the sign outside the Wiener Holocaust Library in Central London. The defaced sign has been added to the permanent exhibition.
Every weekend since the October 7 attack, tens of thousands have marched in solidarity with the Palestinian cause in cities across Europe. Few non-Jews are marching in solidarity with Israelis, and to wave an Israeli flag in London is not wise these days, not without police protection. The vigils for the hostages have been sparsely attended. The vigil in London’s Trafalgar Square was muted and filled with mourning.
Now London is braced for more ugly displays of Jew hate, with a large protest planned for Remembrance Day this weekend. It will go ahead despite police pleas to avoid overlap with commemorations of Britain’s war dead.
The rallies for Palestine have felt more gaudy, with fireworks and loud music, because, I suppose, there is something to cheer. Jews are dead, alongside Israeli Arabs. That last fact is not mentioned. Nor is Hamas’s bloodlust toward its own civilians. To mention this is considered impolite. But such sleight of hand is normal. People want this to be simple. I do not suggest that everyone marching has a murderous tendency toward Jews. But their willingness to tolerate, or ignore, these tendencies in others is terrifying.
As I left the October rally, I found a homemade sign resting on a column. It said “End Zionism,” with a picture of a Palestinian flag. It was prettily done: a woman’s hand, I think, with experience of coloring in. I turned it over, on instinct. I was right. The first draft—the heartfelt one—said, “Israel is like my ex [boyfriend].” And there is it: the pull. The emotion is not so different from what the pogromists of the ages felt. The protesters are not thinking of Palestinians under the boot of Hamas—as the pogromists did not think of the Jew as they robbed and murdered him—but of themselves, and how they judge themselves against the idea of the Jew.
Free Palestine, here, means free me. And the Jews are what they have always been: a myth that expresses everything you fear, and everything you are.
Tanya Gold is an award-winning freelance journalist. Follow her on X @TanyaGold1. And read her last piece for The Free Press, “Dubai Paid Beyoncé $24M. She Gave Them Her Integrity.”
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