Barnet, where I am a councillor, is one of the most diverse boroughs in the country, including being home to the largest number of Jewish people of any local authority in the country .
On 7th October when the horrific terrorist incursion into Israel by Hamas occurred, we were braced for the shockwaves to reverberate through our community. Since Labour came to power here in 2022 we have had a strong focus on tackling crime and antisocial behaviour, including through upgrading our CCTV system and working more closely with the Metropolitan Police, and a shared commitment to access to justice for hate crimes.
We knew on that morning that a serious and collaborative response would be needed. I have been asked to share the steps we have taken and continue to take to protect local residents and community cohesion, in the hope that, if as seems sadly likely this conflict does persist, it is helpful for others.
Our key priority was for an early and ongoing reassurance response, starting with a call that morning with the Borough’s Chief Inspector, and working in partnership with the Police and CST ever since, alongside ongoing dialogue with the London Jewish Forum and community leaders.
A command structure was quickly established by the police and significant extra police patrols continue to be deployed in the Borough, particularly around synagogues and schools, with visits to them as well as businesses and charities. I have joined one of these patrols in Golders Green and also an extensive Shabbat morning programme of visits to local synagogues with the Chief Inspector, meeting and listening to congregations, which we will repeat in another key area of the Borough soon.
A listening event with over 60 local Jewish community leaders was held with high level representation from the NW Borough Command Unit, the Community Security Trust as well as the council’s Leader, Chief Executive and Cabinet Lead for Community Safety.
Proceedings started with a detailed update from the Council’s leadership, the CST and the Police on the extensive and collaborative approach being taken by all parties to tackle the escalation of hate crimes and safety issues experienced by Barnet’s Jewish communities. In particular, the Police outlined their increased operational response within the borough, reflecting how local Jewish communities are particularly adversely affected. The Council and Police responded to a wide range of questions, including how to ensure the safety of Jewish children in faith and mainstream schools, taking a zero-tolerance approach to antisemitic hates crimes on the streets and online, and giving Jewish communities the ability to live freely without having to conceal their identity for reasons of personal safety. Participants also highlighted the need for youth movements and students’ voices to be heard, especially in raising concerns for their safety in educational settings.
The Chief Executive of the council-managed Barnet Education and Learning Service has written to the Borough’s head teachers to provide information and resources from the Board of Deputies of British Jews on recognising different forms of antisemitism, advice on dealing with incidents and occurrences, and giving support to Jewish children – especially for those in mainstream schools. Information packs and other resources have been circulated for teachers on how to speak to pupils about the conflict and invitations have been sent to educators to online workshops for tackling hate crime.
The mental and emotional toll events have taken on Jewish communities was also addressed. The council has already circulated mental health resources from mental health charity Jami and the CST for young people and adults.
The Council and all our partners have strongly communicated that we will not tolerate hate crime and that the Police will take action wherever they can.
We have also held a listening event with Muslim leaders, and will continue to be in touch regularly with local Jewish and Muslim communities to check what we can do to support them and to ensure people feel safe through these challenging times.
Barnet takes pride in being a borough of many faiths and communities. We know the conflict in the Middle East is profoundly affecting diverse communities and as we deal with the challenges of the immediate situation, we will ensure that we continue to work together.
To read more on this topic, see The Hamas-Israel War: Why now and what next?