On the Loss of David Amess

The murder of British Member of Parliament David Amess has been a terrible shock not only to those close to him but to the whole country and abroad, including, in particular, the Jewish community, to whom he was a steadfast friend.

There seems no doubt as to who killed him, as the suspect, Ali Harbi Ali, was arrested at the scene of the crime immediately thereafter.

Though the details have yet to emerge, London’s Metropolitan Police force released a statement saying that “the early investigation has revealed a potential motivation linked to Islamist extremism,” adding that they believe he acted alone.

In the wake of the attack, the constant threats of violence under which British politicians have long been forced to live is once again the talk of the country.

Between 2010 and 2016, nearly 700 crimes against British lawmakers were reported to the police, mostly in the form of online abuse. Jade Botterill, the former office manager for Labor lawmaker Yvette Cooper, tweeted that the office once received more than 100 death threats in a week. (In a normal week, they’d average about 50 death threats, she said.)

The discussion centers, inevitably, on what degree of security is indicated; how to balance safety with the free functioning of democracy. To their credit, like Amess, many of his colleagues have held, and said they will continue to hold, open meetings with constituents, despite the risks.

Amess was stabbed to death during a meeting with constituents, where anybody can come in off the street without prior checks, to talk with their MP.

As the Washington Post noted, “the Palace of Westminster in London is guarded by armed officers and there are airport-style scanners at the entrance but there is no equivalent security for when politicians meet, on a weekly basis, with constituents.”

All this is, unfortunately, the standard discussion after a murder of this kind, much like that which followed the killings of British MPs Jo Cox and Stephen Timms in recent years, and the near-fatal shooting in 2011 of former Rep. Gabby Giffords in the U.S.

What has not been standard is the quality of the condolences and tributes that have come pouring in from colleagues and constituents. Official condolences tend to be pro forma, more a matter of discharging obligations than expressing personal grief. But in the case of David Amess, the sincerity was evident.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson explained it well, when he said: “The reason people are so shocked and sad is, above all, he was one of the kindest, nicest, most gentle people in politics. He also had an outstanding record of passing laws to help the most vulnerable. … And we’ve lost today a fine public servant and a much-loved friend and colleague, and our thoughts are very much today with his wife, his children, and his family.”

As MP David Johnston wrote in the Spectator: “To know that someone like him could be attacked in this way … has left us all shocked and feeling hollow. That has nothing to do with being in the same party as him: the tributes have come from all sides of the House. There is a special camaraderie that we 650 MPs feel despite our political differences.”

For the Jewish community there is a special sense of loss. Sir David’s active and selfless concern for others embraced everyone. In his own words, during a debate in the House of Commons to mark Holocaust Memorial Day last January, he said, memorably:

“Although I myself am not a Jew but a Catholic, there is Jewish blood in each and every one of us. I would certainly have been proud to have been born a Jew, and I stand shoulder to shoulder with our local Jewish community at the Southend and Westcliff Hebrew Congregation … and the recently arrived Chassidic Jews.”

The local Chassidishe kehillah confirmed Amess’ sentiment in a statement in which they said that they were “shocked and saddened by the horrific attack and tragic murder.”

Rabbi Akiva Padwa, Rav of Kehillas Meluim Leiphod Westcliff, said, “Our thoughts and prayers are with the family, friends, supporters and entire constituency of Sir David. Sir David was very supportive and welcoming to our community. His care and devotion was astounding. May his soul rest in peace.”

Rabbi Geoffrey Hyman of Southend and Westcliff Hebrew Congregation described Sir David as “a real mentch.” He said: “We are absolutely devastated by the murder of Sir David Amess, our local MP. He had a very close relationship with our Jewish community here in Westcliff.”

Amess conducted a years-long personal campaign to erect a statue in honor of Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who saved thousands of Hungarian Jews from deportation to Nazi death camps in World War II. Queen Elizabeth II unveiled the statue in 1997 outside the Western Marble Arch Synagogue in London. He called it “one of the proudest moments of my life.”

We express our sincere condolences to his wife and five children.