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Robert Cusack

Syrians surprised as Jewish students join Aleppo protest

The Jewish Students Union protesters near Downing Street on Thursday [TNA]

Date of publication: 16 December, 2016

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Syrian protesters in London were initially surprised on Thursday night after members of the Union of Jewish Students joined their gathering in solidarity with Aleppo - but tensions quickly thawed.
"Growing up in Syria, I was told by the Assad regime that we hate Jews," said Abu Moussa, speaking under an assumed name for "safety reasons".

"It was the way they controlled us through education and ideologies," he said he was told.

A crowd of Jewish students and Syrians gathered at a protest against the Aleppo crisis on Thursday night, opposite the home of the Prime Minister in London.

The two sides, suspicious at first, started meeting up and numerous conversations sprung up over a common interest - the Assad regime and its war-crimes in Aleppo.

Minutes previously, members of the Union of Jewish Students had arrived to a stunned reception - dozens of eyes fixated on the Star of David and many seemed unsure of how to respond.

Some of the Syrian organisers were furious at the cameras now focussed on the students - "We'll become linked! People will think we're part of the conspiracy," came one voice - the protest chants continued regardless.

Arab-Jewish relations have had a troubled history in the Middle East. After centuries of relative coexistence, anti-semitism spread across the Middle East in the wake of the creation of Israel and its subsequent occupation of Palestinian territories and treatment of the Palestinian people.

Jewish communities in the Arab world came under increasing pressure, eventually forcing an exodus of Jews from Yemen to Morocco via Iraq.

Year after year, alarming levels of admiration for Nazism and Holocaust denial are reported in Arab and Muslim countries, where teaching of history is heavily politicised.

Some leaders and clerics have spoken fondly of the actions of Adolf Hitler, most recently Turkish President Erdogan, while this reporter has spotted school children in Arab countries wearing wrist-bands with the Nazi swastika.

Arab-Jewish relations have had a troubled history in the Middle East

Arab and Jewish communities have not mixed very often as a result and when the two groups came to mix at a peace rally in London the resulting emotion was one of utmost fascination.

"I'm sorry!" said Abu Moussa, turning with embarrassment to the Jewish students that surrounded him, "I don't hate Jews any more."

"I strongly disagree with what the Israeli government is doing and I'm supportive [of] the Palestinian resistance - [I disagree with] anyone who kills civilians, in fact.

"But I don't have a problem with anyone who is Jewish just because they're Jewish."

The Jewish community in the UK has been one of the largest supporters of the Syrian rebels. World Jewish Relief has raised more than £1 million in the UK for refugees - one of the largest amounts raised by a small community.

When asked if he was prepared to share his conversation with Jewish people on social media however, Abu Moussa and his friend were adamant that they could not post for safety reasons.

"I can share with a few friends individually but of course I absolutely cannot post this on social media because I have friends who are close-minded," said his friend.

The New Arab spoke with a number of the Jewish protesters at the rally, to understand if they had felt welcome or not.

"It's not important if we were made to feel welcome," said Jake Cohen, a student at UCL.

"That's not up to them to make us welcome - it's up to us how we feel."

Cohen and a number of other students from various cities across England said that they had come to show solidarity with the Syrian cause, not for any other reason.

"We in the Jewish community know more than any other community the importance of protecting against genocide," said Cohen.

Editor's note: A previously published version of this article contained an unedited quote, the direct transcription of which gave a false impression of the speaker's intended meaning.

Previous version: "I strongly disagree with what the Israeli government is doing and I'm supportive to the Palestinian resistance - anyone who kills civilians, in fact."

The previous version also inaccurately referred to the 'Jewish Students' Union', instead of the 'Union of Jewish Students'.

Edit made: 12:36pm GMT, December 12

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