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Opinion: Seeing those images was like a gut punch

PUBLISHED: 10:00 09 January 2020

Camden council leader Georgia Gould was heartened by the community pulling together to clean up after antisemitic graffitti was daubed around the area.

Camden council leader Georgia Gould was heartened by the community pulling together to clean up after antisemitic graffitti was daubed around the area.

PA Archive/PA Images

On the last day of Chanukah, I was walking in the Scottish highlands when I got a call to say there had been antisemitic graffiti daubed around Hampstead and Belsize, including South Hampstead Synagogue.

Looking at the images on my phone was like a gut punch - there was something so painfully reminiscent about the sight of a Star of David plastered onto buildings representing Jewish cultural life. For that to be in my community was sickening.

Our response to this awful incident also showed the best of Camden. Camden's street cleaning team were there on Sunday morning removing the graffiti. Support flowed in from every part of our community. Rabbi Eli Levin from South Hampstead Synagogue wrote a beautiful blog where he described the love and solidarity from neighbours, well-wishers from around the country, churches, diocese, the Association of British Muslims, the Sikh Council and many more. He thanked them all for their friendship and pledged that the synagogue would be there to stand with them against hate of any form.

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That is the Camden I know and love. In Camden, more than three years ago all councillors came together to unanimously pass the IHRA definition of antisemitism and in April last year unanimously passed the APPG definition of Islamophobia. It is a place where our community came together in a peace walk led by the families who'd lost sons to violence on our streets. And every year Camden supports over 120 cultural and community events, reaching almost 100,000 residents and celebrating the rich and diverse tapestry of life here.

We can never be complacent about our cohesion. We are seeing a rise in hate crime of all kinds. At sessions Camden ran to support our EU Citizens, I heard from people who have lived their whole lives here, who say they now feel unwelcome. Muslim constituents have described to me the direct impact representations in the media have on the verbal and physical abuse they receive on the streets and public transport.

When I go to synagogue with my family, we pass security that reminds us that there are those who would attack us just for being Jewish. Young black men are three times more likely to be stopped and searched by the police in London, and are also more at risk of being victims of violence themselves.

We have been let down by our national leaders on racism. We can never again go into an election where minorities are left feeling unsafe by the choices available. As leaders locally and nationally, we have a responsibility to send a strong, clear and united message that racism will not be tolerated.

As communities, we must do the deep work of building bridges together brick by brick. A Somali mother said to me once that in Somalia they say that it takes a village to raise a child. In Camden, our village includes people from around the world, of all faiths and none - but we are still a village raising our children together. Our real strength comes from the small acts of checking in on each other, sharing stories and offering support when things are difficult. Every day, I see the way our community acts for each other and I know that, in Camden, hate will never win.

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