Stephen Fry decries antisemitism in Christmas video, is pilloried online

British Jewish actor urges UK citizens to speak out against Jew hatred; wave of commentators accuse him of playing ‘victim’ while not caring about Palestinians in Gaza

Michael Horovitz is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel

Stephen Fry gives Channel 4's alternative Christmas message, December 25, 2023. (Channel 4 screenshot: used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
Stephen Fry gives Channel 4's alternative Christmas message, December 25, 2023. (Channel 4 screenshot: used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Stephen Fry issued a heartfelt Christmas message Monday, calling out the surge in antisemitism in the United Kingdom and encouraging the country’s Jews to take pride in their heritage — and swiftly sparked a torrent of online trolling and backlash, with many accusing the actor and writer of playing the victim instead of shining light on the plight of Palestinians in war-torn Gaza.

“The great Irish thinker and writer Conor Cruise O’Brien once said that ‘antisemitism is a light sleeper.’ Well, it seems to have woken up of late,” Fry said in the video, which aired on the British Channel 4 network. “The horrendous events of October 7th and the Israeli response seemed to have stirred up this ancient hatred.”

Jewish on his mother’s side, Fry was not raised in a religious household and said he did not identify as such.

“Then again, I know, because I’ve been warned, that I’ve been on lists of British Jews that some ultra right-wing newspapers and sites have published over the years. And I’m frankly damned if I’ll let antisemites be the ones who define me and take ownership of the word Jew, injecting it with their own spiteful venom,” he said. Therefore: “I accept and claim the identity.”

Referencing the Israel-Hamas war, Fry said: “It’s agonizing to see all the violence and destruction that’s unfolding, and the terrible loss of life on both sides brings me an overwhelming sadness and heartache. But whatever our opinions on what is happening, there can be no excuse for the behavior of some of our citizens.”

Fry cited rising antisemitism statistics from the Metropolitan Police, noting that there have been 50 incidents in London alone every day since October 7, amounting to a 1,350% rise.

“Shop windows smashed, Stars of David and swastikas daubed on walls of Jewish property, synagogues, and cemeteries. Jewish schools have been forced to close. There is real fear stalking the neighborhoods of Britain. Jewish people are becoming fearful of showing themselves. In Britain. In 2023,” he stated, adding that he believed the events would have reminded his grandparents — who fled central Europe in the 1930s — of the situation on the continent at the time.

“They believed Britishness meant being fair and decent, but what can be more unfair or indecent than race hatred, whether antisemitism, Islamophobia or any kind?

“Knowing and loving this country as I do, I don’t believe that most Britons are ok living in a society that judges hatred of Jews to be the one acceptable form of racism. So speak up, stand with us, be proud to be Jewish or Jew-ish – or, if not Jewish at all, proud to have us as much a part of this great nation as any other minority, as any of you,” Fry stated.

Channel 4 has broadcast a contemporary, alternative message to the Royal Christmas Message since 1993. The Guardian noted it was “refreshing” that Fry was given the honor this year, after in 2008, Iran’s then-president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad — a Holocaust denier — was chosen.

In one of the responses to Fry’s video, X user @MannieMighty1 posted a composite image of Fry next to an injured Palestinian child and wrote: “Good afternoon. My name is Stephen Fry, hopefully ‘Sir Stephen’ by next year, and I’m here to tell you about how oppressed I’ve chosen to be. Pay no attention to that malingering scruffy urchin in the next frame. He brought it upon himself…*slurp*…”

Another user wrote: “I’ve worshiped Stephen Fry for my entire adult life. To hear him conflate anti-Zionism with antisemitism has shocked me. To hear him show no care or support for the Palestinians & instead center people in this country has broken me. Smashed windows vs carrying your dead child?”

Yet another said: “We don’t have a problem with Jews, Stephen Fry, we have a problem with genocide & you know it. When it was Jews who were the targets of genocide, this country gave half a million lives fighting the evils of Nazism. Now we fight to protect Palestinians. It’s what we do. Same rules.”

All three posts received thousands of likes and retweets.

File: Pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel activists march in central London on December 9, 2023 (HENRY NICHOLLS / AFP)

The video drew some support as well, with a user commending the “beautiful” message.

“His words on how the UK has always been and must always be a safe place for Jewish people, was so powerful & his comments cautioning against use of slurs targeting anyone made me cry,” the X user wrote.

“Thank you @stephenfry for your bravery and good humor. How reassuring it is to know that those of us who fight daily against the scourge of antisemitism are not alone,” user Bella Wallersteiner wrote.

“I’m a big fan of @stephenfry, but after watching this video I’m an even bigger fan,” @BermanNDP wrote. “Jews should be safe to practice their culture openly wherever they live, free from harassment, persecution and hate.”

Antisemitism has skyrocketed around the world since war erupted between Israel and Hamas after the terror group’s October 7 massacre, in which terrorists killed 1,200 people in Israel and kidnapped some 240.

Israel’s military campaign, aimed at toppling the Hamas regime in Gaza and securing the release of the hostages, has come under harsh international criticism for its mounting death toll. The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza says over 20,000 Palestinians have been killed in the offensive, though those figures cannot be independently verified and include combatants as well as civilians killed by misfired Gazan rockets; Israel says more than 8,000 were Hamas operatives.

In the UK, there were more than 1,500 antisemitic incidents reported between October 7 and December 7, the highest ever total reported to the Jewish community security organization CST across such a period. Weekly rallies in London calling for a ceasefire in Gaza have come under scrutiny for antisemitic chants and posters by some participants.

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