Fighting Antisemitism: A Plea for Understanding

Maurice Benisty's guest blog emphasises the importance of addressing antisemitism in the aftermath of the October 7 attacks in Israel.

Image shows a hand with palm open, holding a chain with a star of David pendant attached.

On 7 October, my world changed. Israel saw the worst attack on Jews since the Holocaust.   Terrible atrocities were perpetrated against men, women, children, and the elderly, with over 1,200 Israelis, mainly civilians, killed by Hamas in a brutal terrorist attack.

Israel is home to around 40% of the total Jewish population of fifteen million worldwide. I have as many family and friends there as I do here. Imagine then the trauma of seeing your people under attack in Israel and at the same time experiencing a massive increase in antisemitism here in the UK threatening your own safety.

My family have had their businesses targeted for violence on social media for no other reason than they are Jewish. I confronted someone tearing down posters of the Israeli hostages on my high street to be told that the hostages were not real. I saw a young Jewish boy waiting at a bus stop with a traditional head covering being shouted at by strangers to “Free Palestine.” Hundreds of thousands of people have been protesting, many with posters and chants equating Jews to Nazis and calling for the end of the state of Israel.

Over recent years we have seen racism, sexual violence, and the discrimination against minorities become a regular part of the workplace educational agenda.  Events are organised to focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) and to ensure that the vulnerable are protected.  Except, it would seem, if you are Jewish.  I have heard people question whether, from a DEI perspective, antisemitism is racism, as they don’t consider Jews to be a race. We should remember Hitler’s definition which led to the murder of 6 million Jews between 1939 – 45.  It had nothing to do with the colour of your skin or religious belief, it was whether just one grandparent was Jewish.

…general awareness of what it is to be Jewish and an understanding of Jewish history is declining, thereby creating the conditions for antisemitism to spread.

Maurice Benisty

The Jewish community in the UK dates back to the 1650s where Jews suffering from persecution in Spain and Portugal were granted citizenship. In the last century my grandparents were welcomed to the UK and saved from persecution in Russia and Poland. The British people have been good to the Jews and today the community numbers 200,000.  Yet general awareness of what it is to be Jewish and an understanding of Jewish history is declining, thereby creating the conditions for antisemitism to spread.

My heartfelt request is to put antisemitism on the DEI agenda and deepen people’s understanding of Jews and their attachment to the land of Israel. Encourage people to speak to their Jewish colleagues and understand what they are going through.  Be careful of accepting anyone’s narrative on what is happening in the Middle East and invest your time to follow a range of different opinions. There has been a 510% increase in reported antisemitic incidents in the UK since the October 7 attacks.   Please help make sure that your Jewish colleagues feel safe in the workplace and sympathise with them for what they are going through. 

This blog was posted on 18 December 2023 and was written by Maurice Benisty, who has been the Chief Commercial Officer of Demica since 2017.  Demica is a leading fintech serving the needs of large trade banks and corporates with the full suite of supply chain finance solutions. He previously held senior commercial roles within the financial services sector, most recently at Wells Fargo, GE Capital, and Lehman Brothers. Over a 30-year career, Maurice has worked on numerous initiatives to drive inclusion in the workplace, most notably as a trustee of Career Ready, the national social mobility charity where he has served for 17 years.

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