Isis’s promise of certainty is what lures the likes of Mohammed Emwazi | Jonathan Freedland

Islamic State’s binary view of good and evil is a powerful recruit. But in reality the militant group is weak and scared

Maybe it was the goalpost that did it. In his last year of primary school, Mohammed Emwazi, the Kuwaiti-born Londoner exposed this week as the man behind the mask of “Jihadi John”, ran headlong into a metal post and was knocked out cold. “We didn’t see him for six weeks,” an old school friend recalled on a radio phone-in, wondering if that event was the turning point. “He was not the same ever since that brain injury. I am telling you, one million per cent: he was not the same.”

Well, it’s as good as any of the other theories in circulation – and there have been many. And not just to explain Emwazi’s transformation from a smiling child into the gleeful slicer of throats who has become the global, if masked, face of Islamic State, his alliterative, made-up name better known even than that of the movement’s leader. The same intensive theorising has been applied to Shamima Begum, Kadiza Sultana and Amira Abase, the three schoolgirls, two of them aged just 15, to explain why they upped and left their homes in east London for Syria.

Related: If MI5 sticks to outdated tactics, Emwazi won’t be the last British security failure | David Davis

Related: MI5's battle to identify radicalised Britons likely to turn to terrorism

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Leaders should calm fears

So now we understand how terrorism works. The clue is in the name. Its purpose is to spread terror - and the grim truth is, it's working.

Right now, very many Jews are terrified. I know it from my own conversations. After Paris and Copenhagen - after Brussels and Toulouse - parents of children at Jewish schools are seized by anxiety. There's nervousness about the most mundane Jewish activity: after Paris, buying candles and challah on a Friday afternoon feels like a grave risk.

In Denmark, a man is dead for doing no more than trying to protect a batmitzvah party. This week, one of the smartest, sanest men I know called to ask if he should attend an upcoming Jewish talk: no hysteric, he was scared.

Of course, this is not true of all Jews. One friend admits, guiltily, that he has no fear because he does not live a visibly Jewish life.

But that very reasoning only highlights why this situation is one most of us thought we would never know in our lifetimes. The notion that doing basic Jewish things - wearing a kippa, going to shul - might now entail a mortal risk: well, that was something we assumed belonged to the history books, in their darkest chapters.

In this climate, there are many things we need. One of them is security. No one likes to see guards or police outside a house of worship or learning. But for now, if that's what it takes, then that's what we must do. The alternative is worse.

We also need understanding. Thanks to Twitter, I probably see more of the outpourings of the hardcore anti-Zionist left than most. Perhaps naively, I assumed the torrent might subside - if only for a while - after the murders in Copenhagen. Not a bit of it. The haters carried on hating, adamant that antisemitism is exaggerated, a mere tool deployed by "the Zionists" to silence their critics. They tweeted that the killing of a Jew in Denmark was either a random coincidence or, as several hinted, a cunning "false flag" operation by Israel.

No compassion, no sympathy. Just the shouted insistence that all this fuss over Jews was designed to deflect attention from Islamophobia. I thought of pointing to the string of columns I've written over many years denouncing anti-Muslim hate or noting that the Community Security Trust, which monitors antisemitism, gives valued help and advice to its Muslim counterpart, Tell Mama. But the haters weren't listening.

Above all, we need somehow to remain calm. Benjamin Netanyahu's call for Europe's Jews to pack their bags and leave did not help. He made the same call after Paris and it was wrong then, too. It came too soon, before the dead had even been buried. It smacked of exploitation, turning a tragedy into a talking point for his own re-election campaign.

It also chafed against his earlier positions. Netanyahu now projects Israel as a place of safety, yet last summer he was telling the world that Israelis live in daily fear of a terror attack. Now he tells Jews the best response to a murderous threat is to run, yet a matter of weeks ago he was taunting his electoral opponents as weaklings who would "capitulate" to the terrorist enemy.

Little wonder that most Jewish leaders, including the Danish chief rabbi, rejected his call - saying that if Denmark's Jews moved to Israel it would be out of love, not fear.

This is a moment of grave anxiety. We need protection, empathy and above all calm, from leaders who will cool our fears - not fuel them.

Jonathan Freedland: ‘If you believe in what the Guardian is doing, come and join us’

The Guardian is staying true to a form of open, challenging journalism that’s becoming all too rare. Join us as a Member and help shape what we do

As a Guardian reader, you won’t need any lectures on what journalism should be about. You’ll know instinctively that one of its core purposes is holding power to account. I hope you think the Guardian has been doing that, especially in recent years - whether through the WikiLeaks, phone-hacking and Snowden revelations or our very latest exposé of the HSBC files.

It’s not a coincidence that the Guardian has been behind all these crucial stories. It’s because the Guardian is truly independent. Protected by the Scott Trust, we can probe and dig wherever we like; we have no corporate owner telling us what to think, no proprietor or holding company telling us who to take down, who to build up, who to flatter and who to leave alone. We are free to pursue the facts, wherever they lead.

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Football is no longer England’s – this country is just the backdrop | Jonathan Freedland

The sale of broadcast rights reflects a wider shift: from property to finance, the UK has become the turf on which others play

My first mistake, he told me, was that I still thought of it as a game. Wrong. The best way to think of football was as a TV property, comparable to, say, Downton Abbey.

My conversations with senior figures in the Premier League are sufficiently rare that this one stayed with me. It was last autumn, a chance encounter on the fringes of the party conference season. As a relatively new convert to the game, I found each insider nugget fascinating.

The problem is that top flight football has soared far beyond the people who were once its anchors

What were once modest middle-class ambitions – owning a decent home, perhaps with a garden – are now out of reach

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Israelis have a chance to dump Netanyahu. I fear they won’t seize it | Jonathan Freedland

Bibi has lost allies abroad and alienated the electorate at home. But unless his opponents raise their game, he’s likely to win the election next month

One of the few things most world leaders, and doubtless much of world opinion, can agree on is that they’d like to see the back of Binyamin Netanyahu. The iciness of the relationship between Israel’s prime minister and Barack Obama turned to permafrost long ago, but even Bibi’s fellow rightists find him unbearable. Note the unguarded remarks of Nicolas Sarkozy picked up by an open mic in 2011: “I cannot stand him. He’s a liar,” the then French president confided to his US counterpart. “You’re fed up with him?” said Obama. “I have to deal with him every day.”

There was nothing much either of them could do about Netanyahu. Only one group of people – Israeli voters – can get rid of him, and on 17 March they’ll have their chance. No doubt those outside Israel, given a vote, would find the decision straightforward: ejecting Netanyahu as punishment for last summer’s Gaza bombardment, which cost more than 2,100 Palestinian lives, or for his continuing building of settlements in the occupied West Bank. But Israelis have a host of additional reasons to prise Bibi from the prime ministerial chair he’s been glued to for nine of the past 19 years.

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