Women from all around the UK came together to fight hatred in an increasingly ‘difficult and dangerous world’ at Europe’s largest Jewish-Muslim conference.
Hosted by Nisa-Nashim – Britain’s Jewish Muslim women’s network, the conference took place at the LSE on Sunday 22nd April.
With a diverse range of speakers, sessions covered topics from the loss of life in the Israel/Palestine conflict to a practical guide to self-defense.
More than 200 Jewish and Muslim women travelled to the conference to represent locations including Manchester, Leeds, Exeter, Peterborough, Surrey, Bournemouth, Luton and Birmingham. There were also delegates from all over London and surrounding areas including Golders Green, Hampstead, Ilford, Wimbledon, Ealing and Harrow.
Many delegates were moved to tears by keynote speaker Robi Damelin, of The Parents Circle – Families Forum, a joint Israeli-Palestinian organisation of more than 600 families, all of whom have lost a relative in the ongoing conflict, that works towards reconciliation between the nations and a sustained peace.
Entitled ‘Change Makers’, the ground-breaking conference also featured a panel of inspiring female leaders who have been a force for change. Attendees heard from activist and author Helen Pankhurst – the great-granddaughter of Emmeline Pankhurst – Gabby Edlin of the charity Bloody Good Period, Curzon PR CEO Farzana Baduel and Deputy Lieutenant and women’s champion Pinky Lilani CBE.
The day also featured many opportunities for creating new friendships between faiths, with delegates bonding over food, poetry and tea. Afternoon prayers were also part of the packed schedule, with Jewish and Muslim services being held side by side.In her opening remarks, Laura Marks OBE, Jewish Co-Founder of Nisa-Nashim, said: “Over the last year, the world has continued to be a difficult and dangerous place. Seventy one people died in the horrific Grenfell Tower tragedy, 22 young people were murdered at a concert in Manchester, we’ve seen cars driven into innocent people in Stockholm, Barcelona and New York City and Darren Osborne’s murderous attack at Finsbury Park Mosque.
“Antisemitic hate incidents have reached a record level in the UK. Anti-Muslim hate crime has increased, both here and abroad.
“But what we are focussing on at this conference is the need to stick together – and genuinely support each other – no ifs, no buts, no what abouts, just friendship and support.
“One thing I have learned over many years of campaigning with and for women is that we get things done and we don’t put more barriers in the way in doing so. Women are driving change in society today and everyone in this room is a part of that.”
Julie Siddiqi OBE, Muslim Co-Founder of Nisa-Nashim, said: “We must not allow people around us to pitch Jews and Muslims against each other… to fight over who is the most hated!
“The Nisa-Nashim approach is one of collaboration, of meeting and getting to know each other as friends, to understand that in many ways we have a lot in common, in other ways we are different and all of that is fine, to be celebrated and above all, respected.
“We need to be brave, we need to make changes, we need to be the change we want to see in the world and we need to take others with us.
“This, my friends, is what change makers look like!”
Powerful Jewish women urge protection of Muslim women
Nisa-Nashim early this month organised a powerful letter signed by 50 Jewish women – including MPs Luciana Berger and Ruth Smeeth, Facebook Vince President Nicola Mendelsohn CBE and Chief Executive of the Board of Deputies of British Jews Gillian Merron – to local election candidates urging them to protect Muslim women from abuse and attack.
The letter asked candidates for an immediate strategy to make Muslim women safe and then to develop a longer-term policy on the issue of gendered Islamophobia.
The Jewish women decided to the unprecedented action after reading a report from Tell MAMA that the greatest impact of anti-Muslim hatred is felt by women who are visibly Muslim – noting that more than half of the victims of incidents were female.
Laura added: “The list of women who signed the letter is impressive – MPs, Peers, business leaders, charity CEOs and rabbis from all sides of the religious and political spectrum, united in solidarity. What’s more, everyone signed within 12 hours of being asked.
“Not one of the 50 women we asked said no. Not one questioned what we were doing. Everyone signed up immediately… showing once again that we have more in common.”