Danny Stone is the Chief Executive of the AntiSemitism Policy Trust.
It is only a week since armed terrorists from Hamas attacked, slaughtered, defiled and kidnapped Israeli civilians and soldiers, but Britain’s Jews are already, perversely, facing a backlash despite many of its members mourning the loss, or suffering the agony of an information blackout about relatives and loved ones.
Forty-eight hours or so from Hamas’s barbaric assault, the slogan ‘Free Palestine’ had been daubed on bridges above roads in and near to Golders Green, home to one of the largest Jewish communities in the UK. Neighbourhoods in North West London, with a significant Jewish presence, were previously targeted only two years ago during the last escalation in the Middle East conflict. Convoys drove through the streets of these areas with the call from one car: “f**k their mothers, rape their daughters” being blasted through a megaphone. In the last week, we have already had people driving by visibly identifiable Jewish people and screaming murderous threats at them.
Just before I penned this article, a father of two children who attend a Jewish school spoke to me about the agonising conversation he had been having with his wife about whether it was safe to send them in. Indeed, Jewish schools and community buildings across the country have had to liaise with relevant authorities about the safety of British Jewish children. For one school it led to a decision to have Jewish children remove their school blazers for fear of identification. Three more, despite advice to the contrary, felt moved to close their doors for a day last week.
The concerns for schools, and Jewish communal leadership, are understandable particularly given that some – for example on university campuses across the country – have chosen to celebrate a proscribed terrorist group’s savage actions. Jewish communities across the world know only too well what radicalised individuals can do. Four Jews were murdered in the Hypercacher in France by an ideologically motivated terrorist. A Jewish man was killed in Denmark. Jews were killed in Belgium, in an attack on the Jewish Museum.
Jewish people have been the subject of terrorist reconnaissance here in the UK too, in Manchester and elsewhere, and the offices of a major Jewish charity were bombed during the mid-1990s. Reports of suspicious behaviour and incidents that do not qualify as antisemitic have risen some 800 per cent in recent days. That is to say this is not imaginary, or a case of hypochondria, global Jewry has faced and will likely face further deadly attacks.
This phenomenon is not anecdotal. The figures are clear on the correlation between Middle East violence and attacks on Britain’s Jews. The Community Security Trust (CST) which has been recording incidents of antisemitism since the 1980s has seen figures rise from some 50 a month 15 years or so ago, to a near-constant level of more than 100 incidents per month, with last year’s total standing at just over 1650 incidents. This needs to be considered in the context of there only being some 260,000 Jews in the UK. According to Government figures, Jews are proportionately more likely to suffer hate crime than many other minority groups.
In 2009 and 2014, when Israel was at war, incident figures rose to some 300 incidents per month. This was unprecedented at that time. The violence in the Middle East acted as ‘trigger events’ for attacks on Jews who were blamed or held accountable for Israel’s actions and subject to often opportunistic attacks.
In 2021, when the conflict flared up again, the situation worsened still. May and June’s respective incident totals of 661 and 210 together accounted for 39 per cent of the 2,255 antisemitic incidents recorded that year. This was the highest number ever recorded in calendar year. against is reporting incidents have now risen by over 500 per cent compared to last year, and the police too are reporting a huge increase. Of particular worry is that a significant number of victims and offenders in 2021, and again last year, were children.
For some, debate about the Middle East clouds their judgement, but defining anti-Jewish racism in relation to the Middle East conflict needn’t be overly complex. Debate about the Middle East is not an issue. Criticising Israel is not an issue. But holding Jews collectively responsible for the actions of Israel of its Government is antisemitic. Forcing Jews to declare ‘a side’ before allowing them to participate in an activity or attend an event is antisemitic. Using age-old antisemitic tropes when discussing the conflict is antisemitic. Supporting, calling for, aiding or justifying the killing or harming of Jews in the name of a radical ideology or an extremist view of religion is antisemitic.
Some perhaps need it pointed out to them that the killing of Jews in Hamas’s assault on Israel was the worst mass-murder of Jewish people since the Holocaust, and counts as one of the third largest terrorist attacks in the last 50 years. As David Baddiel pointed out, justifications of such an atrocity would elsewhere be called victim-blaming but, because of how antisemitism works, punching up and viewing Jews as associated with power, Jewish people cannot be victims and are regularly, in some way, held responsible for their own misfortune.
The Jewish community – a vibrant, thriving and otherwise energetic community – is preparing for the worst in the coming weeks and months. History, data and instinct dictate that this must be the case. Incident numbers have already risen exponentially. So, if you see antisemitism, challenge it if safe to do so and report it, to the Community Security Trust or the police if a crime is suspected to have taken place. Offer support to friends and colleagues should it be required. It will take strong leadership from those in public life, robust action from police and active challenge from decent people across the country to ensure that the violence and hatred we have seen in the Middle East is not imported to Britain.