As other Britons were wrapping last-minute Christmas gifts or tucking into mince pies, British parliamentarian Mike Freer got a phone call on the evening of Dec. 24. The Conservative politician’s alarm company was informing him that something had triggered an alert at his constituency office.
A non-Jewish Zionist who has represented North London’s Finchley and Golders Green district, which has a large Jewish population, since 2010, Freer decided to check things out, since he lived near the office.
“I went to the office expecting a false alarm, as has happened on previous occasions,” Freer told JNS. But it quickly became clear that this time was different.
“There were numerous fire engines, and police vehicles had cordoned off my office because of the fire,” he said. “It would not be appropriate for me to comment on an ongoing investigation, but I trust that the police will work diligently to discover why the perpetrators chose to target my office.”
Freer told JNS that some are suggesting the fire was an arson attack responding to his vocal support of the Jewish state.
“Many constituents have written to me with much-appreciated messages of support,” he told JNS. “Several have raised concerns that the attack may have been linked to my support for Israel.”
“I can’t comment on whether pro-Israel members of Parliament are at greater risk, but events in the Middle East have undoubtedly stirred up significant strength of feeling amongst many, and misinformation and propaganda from malign actors can, as we’ve seen, result in individuals resorting to criminality,” he added.
Still, the politician appears to be unfazed.
“I will not be deterred from expressing my views on a subject deeply important to my constituents,” he told JNS. “My support for Israel and the British Jewish community is longstanding.”
As a member of Parliament, Freer has been a target of violence in the past. When he was meeting with constituents in a North London mosque in 2011, a dozen men from a group called Muslims Against Crusades accosted him. One called him a “Jewish homosexual pig.” Freer, who is openly gay, had to be moved to a locked room for his protection.
He learned later that the group had said he had “the blood of thousands of Muslims on his hands.”
Following the April 11, 2022, conviction of Islamist terrorist Ali Harbi Ali for the Oct. 15, 2021 murder of British lawmaker Sir David Amess, Freer disclosed that police informed him that Ali had visited his constituency office in September 2021. “I and my staff will now wear stab vests and wear mobile panic alarms,” Freer said at the time.
Ali admitted during his trial at London’s Old Bailey Central Criminal Court that it was a “big problem” for him that the late Amess was a member of the Conservative Friends of Israel parliamentary group. Freer is also a member.
Given that members of Parliament don’t receive security details, Freer told JNS that he and his team continue to implement extensive precautions.
“My staff and I have protective vests to wear for public engagements. We do residency checks for those seeking to attend surgeries [constituent meetings]. And the office is protected by closed-circuit television, alarms and security doors,” he said.
With repairs underway at his local office following the fire, Freer’s team has moved temporarily to his Westminster office, where constituents can still contact him “via phone, email or my website,” he said.
“I’ve been clear that the police are investigating, that there is no confirmation this was motivated by my support [for Israel], and in any case, I will not be deterred from expressing my views,” Freer told JNS.
‘Substantive’ response to Jew-hatred
Freer assured constituents that the British government is actively engaged in addressing the rise of antisemitic incidents, with increased funding for the Community Security Trust, a nonprofit that protects British Jews, and additional police resources in Jewish-majority areas.
“There is understandable concern amongst some of my Jewish constituents with regard to the motive behind the attack, particularly in the context of local tensions over the past months with repeated pro-Palestine demonstrations in central London containing antisemitic elements,” Freer told JNS. “I’ve taken steps to assure them of the police’s investigation, and that the government has taken substantive action to tackle antisemitic-related crime in areas of London with large Jewish communities.”
That, he said, includes “efforts being made by ministerial colleagues to review whether existing extremism legislation is fit for purpose.” He also told JNS that British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and other political figures contacted him “to express their concern and support.”
“Political figures should be able to express their views on contentious issues without the fear of retaliatory action,” Freer said. “Intimidation is entirely unacceptable.”
He assures constituents that the British government is “wholly engaged” in keeping Jews safe.
“My support for Israel and the British Jewish community is longstanding, and I’ve been extremely active locally since the tragic events of October 7 to ensure the continued safety of my Jewish constituents in the wake of a worrying rise in antisemitic rhetoric and actions,” he said.
In 2014, Freer resigned as parliamentary private secretary to then-Minister of State for Skills Nick Boles so he could vote against a backbench motion recognizing Palestine as a state, saying “the two-state solution we all want to see should be the end not the start of the process.”