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New Report Shows Britain Not Immune to Anti-Semitism

Faring better than Europe, but with clouds on the horizon

Liam Hoare
August 01, 2014
Gravestones lay desecrated in Eastham Jewish cemetery, June 16, 2005, in London, England. (Getty Images)
Gravestones lay desecrated in Eastham Jewish cemetery, June 16, 2005, in London, England. (Getty Images)

In the first six months of 2014, there was a 36 percent increase in the number of anti-Semitic incidents recorded in the United Kingdom, a new report released by Britain’s Community Security Trust (CST) revealed Thursday.

Between January and June of this year, 304 incidents of anti-Semitism were noted by the CST, as compared to 223 in the same period in 2013, 312 in 2012, and 294 in 2011. While there are positive trends beneath the headline figure–violent anti-Semitic incidents have fallen for the past two years and are at their lowest level since 2001–other types of incidents have risen in number, leading to an increase in the overall figure. Damage to Jewish property went up 35 percent–one widely-reported example of anti-Semitism was the desecration of gravestones at Blackley Jewish Cemetery in Manchester, some broken in two, some daubed with Nazi and anti-Jewish graffiti, which took place at the end of June.

There was also a 34 percent increase in “abusive behaviour,” which encapsulates “anti-Semitic graffiti on non-Jewish property, one-off hate mail, anti-Semitic verbal abuse and those social media incidents that do not involve direct threats.” The most common type of anti-Semitic incident remains “random, spontaneous, verbal anti-Semitic abuse, directed at people who look Jewish, while they go about their business in public places,” the report details.

What is difficult to account for is the cause, if any, of the overall rise in anti-Semitic incidents year-on-year. There was no trigger event, such as a flare-up in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As such, “it is likely that the increase in the number of incidents either reflects a genuine increase in the number of incidents that are taking place, or an improvement in the reporting of incidents to CST and the Police by members of the Jewish community and the wider public–or a combination of these two factors,” the report concludes.

Taken in context and compared to other European countries, the CST’s findings–particularly that there has been a continuous fall in violent anti-Semitism–indicate that Britain for all its faults remains an open and tolerant nation, largely free of the anti-Semitic virus. The European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights found last year that British Jews, while sensing an upward trend, were among the least concerned in Europe about anti-Semitism. Pew discovered, on the other side, that only 7 percent of British people hold an unfavorable view of Jews, against 83 percent favorable.

Moreover, Britain has never been blighted by the sort of violent anti-Semitism that has cursed France, particularly of late, with nasty street clashes occurring in the vicinity of synagogues and vandalism and looting of Jewish-owned businesses, to say nothing of the shooting at the Ohr Torah school in Toulouse in 2012. There is still something about George Orwell’s observation that the English wouldn’t take to fascism and violent thuggery, not just because of a commitment to constitutionalism and legality, but because nobody would it seriously enough, that rings true.

But what cannot be ignored is that, with the commencement of Operation Protective Edge, things do not portend well for British Jews. For this latest CST report does not take into account the figures for July, which has seen 130 recorded incidences of anti-Semitism in Britain alone, the highest concentration in a single month since January 2009, which coincided with Operation Cast Lead.

The scale in Britain is smaller than in France and elsewhere, but in the past month, the windows of a synagogue in Belfast were smashed up, a rabbi walking down the street in north London was verbally abused by a group of youths who shouted “fuck the Zionists” and “fuck the Jews,” and a Jewish boy riding his bicycle was hit on the head with a stone, also in north London. This is to say nothing of confrontations that have occurred at demonstrations and counter-demonstrations related to Operation Protective Edge.

Britain, like elsewhere in Europe therefore, is faced with the intersection between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism, of hatred for Israel giving way to hatred for Jews, an affliction every time Israel exercises military force that manifests itself in ugly and insidious ways. Traces of it can be found not just on the street but in the commentariat and political class–sometimes not anti-Semitism per se, but unintended excesses as people struggle to find the right tone in which to criticize Israel.

Britain is largely free of anti-Semitism–but it is not immune to it, either.

Liam Hoare is a freelance writer based in Vienna, where he is the Europe Editor for Moment and a frequent contributor to Tablet.