Muslims and Jews don’t have to import the Israel and Palestine conflict into Britain

Mohammed Amin MBE was a Conservative Party member for over 36 years, but is now a Liberal Democrat. While he is Co-Chair of the Muslim Jewish Forum of Greater Manchester, he is writing in a personal capacity.

British Muslims and Jews have a number of common interests which are pursued more effectively by acting together. To list just three examples:

  • the retention of male circumcision,
  • the retention of religious humane methods of animal slaughter for food,
  • the rapid provision of death certificates for quick burial.

That is why in 2005 the late Henry Guterman (past president of the Jewish Representative Council for Greater Manchester and Region) and Afzal Khan (then Deputy Lord Mayor of Manchester) promoted the creation of the Muslim Jewish Forum of Greater Manchester. I helped by co-writing the constitution alongside a Jewish barrister, David Berkley.

All of the founders understood that British Muslims and Jews have widely divergent views on Israel and Palestine. That is why many people were bemused whenever we mentioned what we were doing, asking “Don’t Muslims and Jews always fight?”

Accordingly, the purpose clause (current version reproduced below) was drafted very carefully.

“The objects for which the Forum is established are to develop the cultural and social ties between the Muslim and Jewish Communities of Greater Manchester; to educate members of the Muslim and Jewish Communities in relation to their shared values and common Abrahamic tradition, heritage, history and culture; maximising their potential and improving their health and well-being as residents of Greater Manchester; and to promote better understanding within the wider community of the interests and values that are common to the Muslim and Jewish Communities.”

It limits the Forum’s geographical coverage very tightly. Israel and Palestine are not in Greater Manchester and therefore out of scope!

Did that work?

“No and yes” is the short answer.

The Forum began with significantly more Jewish attendance than Muslim attendance, even though there are about ten times as many Muslims in Greater Manchester than Jews. However, from the beginning it had reasonable Muslim attendance.

Unfortunately, a year after the Forum got going there was the 2006 second Lebanon War. Muslim attendance plummeted, almost to zero. Once the fighting was over, Muslim attendance built back up again. Then in late 2008 there was conflict in Gaza with Operation Cast Lead. Muslim attendance plummeted again, but as time passed after the conflict, it built back up again.

The history since then has been very different. Despite significant conflict in Gaza in 2012, 2014, and 2021, there was no impact on Muslim attendance at Forum events. While the Forum never says anything about the Israel/Palestine conflict itself, from time to time it finds the need to say something about the local implications. For example, in 2014 its “statement on attitudes to the conflict in Gaza” and statement about “Boycotts and protests directed at the Kedem store in Manchester.”

The current Gaza conflict

The Hamas attack into Israel on 7 October was of a scale different to anything else during the life of the Forum. Hamas killed more Jews than have died on any single day since the Holocaust. Within days, large numbers of Palestinians had been killed during the Israeli response.

As the Forum considers it vital to keep the conflict out of Greater Manchester, it issued a statement the following Wednesday: “The conflict in Gaza should not be allowed to harm community relations in Greater Manchester.”

This struck a chord. The following day, I appeared on the BBC 1 North West regional news (interview recorded from my hotel balcony in Spain), and on the Friday the Mayor and Deputy Mayor of Greater Manchester issued their own statement which mentioned the Forum’s statement and quoted a sentence from it. The Forum’s leaders also made other media appearances.

Given the collapse of Muslim attendance in 2006 and 2008, I did not know whether that would repeat now, or whether attendance would hold up as occurred in later conflicts.

Last Sunday, the Forum had a panel event with two Jewish and two Muslim lawyers discussing “Does English matrimonial law betray Muslim and Jewish women?” Gratifyingly, there was excellent attendance by Muslims and Jews, as well as people of other faiths and none.

My view is that this demonstrates an increase in maturity between 2006 and now. People do understand that conflict “over there” is not a reason for division and conflict “over here.” I believe it shows that over the last 18 years, the Forum has helped to build much better links between the Muslim and Jewish communities of Greater Manchester.