IF you look at social media you’d be forgiven for thinking Jews and Muslims all hate each other – not just in Israel and Palestine but here too.
If, like us, you have social media accounts, your timelines may be overtaken by loud extremists justifying the unjustifiable. Far-right voices, conspiracy theorists and other extremists spewing their hatred, blaming all Jews for the actions of Israel and all Muslims for the actions of Hamas.
These voices are promoted by the algorithms to the top of your feed, so if you spend too much time online you might think that these extremists are representative.
But they are not. In fact, the vast majority of Muslims and of Jews mourn when an innocent child is killed, no matter what side of a fence it happens on.
That’s true for the wider British public, too. While extremists try to force everyone into a binary choice of “for or against”, most people feel concern for civilians suffering on both sides of the conflict.
The eye-catching, negative reports of prejudice and division can prevent us seeing the rest of the truth.
We are happy to say that they do not reflect how the average British person feels.
As a prominent Muslim activist and a Rabbi, we make what some would call unlikely friends.
Though given that we are both mums, both deeply invested in our faith, both driven by similar values and both of a similar age, we don’t really think it’s that unlikely.
We met ten years ago and now work together to tackle anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim hatred.
That work has always been important but the war in Israel and Gaza has made it even more critical.
That’s because extremists use wars and the pain they create to promote hatred. That’s why you see people using this conflict to drive anti-Semitism or anti-Muslim hate. Sometimes that comes from members of our own communities, but more often it comes from extremists outside of them preying on fraught emotions and pain.
We have seen people accusing British Muslims, in positions of power in media and politics, of being pawns for the so-called international Islamic agenda.
We’ve seen Jews accused, once again, of controlling the media and owing their allegiance to foreign powers.
These vile conspiracy stories are not new. But at moments like these the people making them come out into the open.
Thankfully, Britain doesn’t tend to take such people seriously. We have a proud history of standing against extremism in all its forms and have built a successful multi-ethnic country.
That doesn’t mean we don’t have problems, but generally we should be proud of our country and the unity we have maintained.
In the context of the current conflict we both feel lucky to be in the UK, a country that values democracy and decency and respects difference. We know that for Britain to flourish, people from different backgrounds, and people who don’t agree, must come together and listen to each other, even when this might be the very last thing they want to do.
So what can we do in the face of the conflict in Gaza and Israel?
The first thing we have to realise is that we don’t have the power to stop it.
That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t campaign, pray and argue for what we believe in, but it means acknowledging our limited power.
Where we do have real power is over what happens in our communities here.
If the good, decent people of our country don’t speak up for what unites us, the extremists will focus on what divides us instead.
That means taking on people who might be acquaintances or friends who try to spread fear or hate, not just nodding along or staying quiet.
It means keeping relationships between different communities going, even if there might be some things you decide not to talk about for a while.
It means all upholding our fundamental values and refusing to indulge in anti-Semitism or anti-Muslim hate, even when people try to incite us.
Millions of people are already doing this — and this weekend many of us will be getting together in London for a very different kind of protest, one that focuses on what we have in common.
There won’t be any flags or placards. There won’t be chants or slogans. Christians, Muslims, Jews and people of other faiths and none will be coming together to show it is possible to reach across the divisions which, if not bridged, could seriously damage Britain, the society we cherish.
People who have lost family and friends in Gaza and people who have lost family and friends in Israel will attend together, refusing to hate each other.
If they can do that, the least we can do is join them.
- You are invited to join us in London on December 3, opposite Downing Street.