We must not import Middle East conflict tensions to UK, warns rabbi

Jewish people in Britain must be vigilant but try not to hand extra victory to terrorists by giving in to fear after the latest violence in Israel and Gaza, a rabbi has said.

Dr Jonathan Romain said the ongoing conflict in the Middle East must not be imported to the UK, where he described current relationships between Jewish people and Muslims as being “basically very good”.

The rabbi, whose mother fled Germany on the Kindertransport during the Second World War, said people must remember that the conflict is very much political and about borders, rather than being religious.

Rabbi Jonathan Romain said he believed the Middle East had been “inching towards peace”, but that any progress had now been jeopardised (Luke Doyle/PA)
Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain said he believed the Middle East had been ‘inching towards peace’, but that any progress had now been jeopardised (Luke Doyle/PA)

At least 700 people have reportedly been killed in Israel and more than 400 have been killed in Gaza, over two days after Hamas launched its unprecedented attack.

Rabbi Romain told the PA news agency: “Everyone had a story, everyone was worried. In terms of the overall picture, everyone just felt the situation at the moment is absolutely dire. But also, and this was even worse in a sense, no hope at all for the future, feeling that the future (in that area of the Middle East) was very, very bleak indeed.”

Every Jewish family in the UK has been affected “in one way or another” by the events in Israel, the Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth said.

Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis
Chief Rabbi Sir Ephraim Mirvis says there is not a Jewish family that has not been affected by the scenes in the Middle East (Joe Giddens/PA)

“Because there certainly isn’t a Jewish family in the UK which hasn’t been affected in one way or another by this.

“And also, I have been inundated with so many messages of support and solidarity from so many people throughout Britain, and I sense that there is no civilised person who can be unmoved, who can’t be deeply shocked by these scenes, by seeing what has transpired.”

Rabbi Romain has spoken with the local imam at Maidenhead Mosque, saying:  “We both agreed this is not a Jewish-Muslim problem but a political one, that our job is to help mitigate the situation, not to inflame it and the conflict happening over there should not be imported here”.

Rabbi Romain said his message to the public is “let’s concentrate on solving the problem, not exacerbating it”.

He added: “We certainly don’t want to import whatever’s happening in the Middle East to England where there are basically very good relationships between Jews and Muslims.”

Metropolitan Police patrols were increased in London at the weekend after footage was shared of cars flying Palestinian flags in Acton.

“But I think it would be totally wrong to give in to fear because that would be giving an extra victory to the terrorists. So we’re very adamant that it will be business as usual but with vigilance.”

Rabbi Romain said he believed the Middle East had been “inching towards peace”, but that any progress had now been jeopardised.

While he believes that eventually there will be a ceasefire, he added “nothing will change”, highlighting how what has happened was such a “pointless, destructive act”.

Giving the example of the peace process in Northern Ireland, which involved lengthy negotiations, the rabbi added: “We know that ultimately from our own backyard here in Great Britain, in Northern Ireland, that the only solution comes with negotiation and what we’ve just seen over the last 36 hours is pointless, and all it does is create orphans and widows.”

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