A number of newspapers have all run stories over the last week stating that we are seeing a rise in antisemitic incidents in Britain as a result of Israel’s bombardment of Gaza.
According to an article in the Sunday Times, “More than 100 incidents have been recorded by community organisations and police this month, well above what is normally experienced”. The article goes onto state:
Four teenagers have been charged with racially aggravated common assault after a rabbi was reportedly attacked near a Jewish boarding school in Gateshead on 18 July, while in Belfast, on the same day, bricks were hurled through a synagogue’s window. On 12 July, following a pro-Palestine rally, a group of men piled into four or five cars and drove through a Jewish area of Greater Manchester crying “Heil Hitler,” while also pelting pedestrians with eggs and drinks cans.
The Jerusalem Post cites the Community Security Trust’s claim that after a protest against pro-Israeli reporting by the BBC of the assault on Gaza:
A group from the BBC demonstration, some 400-strong marched toward St John’s Wood an affluent area of Northwest London inhabited by many prominent Jews. At least one member of the Jewish community was verbally assaulted by this group.
The anti-fascist organisation Hope Not Hate goes even further and appears to point the finger at sections of the left and those who support the Palestinian cause:
That there wasn’t a greater backlash in the wake of the murder [of Lee Rigby] was partly down to the great work of local interfaith networks and community groups, who did an amazing job to engage positively with their own audiences and come together to show solidarity with a community under attack.
Now, a year on, it is Britain’s Jewish community under attack but this same solidarity appears sadly less lacking.
Is antisemitism on the rise in Britain and across Europe? And is the left and pro-Palestinian movement, as Hope not Hate suggests, at best ignoring it and at worst condoning such sentiments?
What is antisemitism?
Antisemitism is anti-Jewish racism. It is a belief or behaviour that is hostile toward Jews just because they are Jewish. It can take the form of violence against Jewish people and their homes or community buildings.
So-called “theoretical” antisemitism claims that “the Jews” are a race or nation conspiring to take over the institutions of finance, industry, the law, the arts or the media in order that they might run the world for the benefit of “the Jews”. There are also forms of religious antisemitism that claim, for example, that “the Jews” killed Jesus Christ. Its most extreme form occurred in Nazi Germany, where six million Jews were exterminated in the Holocaust.
Like all forms of racism, antisemitism should be rejected, challenged and opposed.
We feel, like many, that we are once again seeing a rise in antisemitism across Europe, but we believe this predates the war in Gaza and its causes lie elsewhere.
A European Parliament report Antisemitism in Europe, published earlier this year, claims that antisemitism has been growing across Europe, beginning as early as 2010. The most serious incidents are occurring in Eastern Europe and there are worrying developments in France.
While there are local and regional differences, we believe we can make some general points as to why we are witnessing this rise in antisemitism.
2) Across Europe we are seeing a rise in racism – specifically racism aimed at Muslims, asylum seekers and migrant workers. This general increase in racism has brought with it a rise in older more traditional forms of racism like antisemitism and anti-Roma racism.
3) Mainstream political parties, state institutions and media in many of these countries (especially in eastern Europe) are using racism as a way of drawing attention away from economic problems.
4) Organised fascist and fascist-type parties are once again raising antisemitism and are often behind the most violent attacks on Jewish people, their cemeteries, synagogues and homes.
This increase in antisemitism across Europe predates the assault on Gaza and has nothing to do with Muslims or the pro-Palestinian movement. More important it represents a far more serious threat to Jewish people.
In Britain the picture is more complex. A report produced by the Jewish community organisation, the Community Security Trust (CST), provides some figures. The CST recorded 304 antisemitic hate crimes and hate incidents from January to June 2014, compared with 223 incidents in the corresponding period of 2013, 312 in the same months of 2012 and 294 during the same period in 2011. The levels clearly fluctuate slightly.
The 304 antisemitic incidents recorded in 2014 include 22 violent assaults. This is a fall of 32% on the 29 violent assaults recorded in the first half of 2013 and the lowest total for the January-June period since 2001. None of the assaults was classified as “extreme violence”, which would involve a threat to life or grievous bodily harm.
There were 27 incidents of damage and desecration of Jewish property, 232 incidents of abusive behavior – which includes verbal abuse and antisemitic graffiti – and 54 cases of antisemitic incidents using social media, compared with 35 in the same period of 2013.
To repeat: antisemitism is real and should challenged wherever it rears its ugly head. But it should not be confused with anti-Zionism.
What is Zionism?
Zionism is a political philosophy. It holds that Israel is the homeland for all Jews and that it must be a Jewish state. Importantly, being Jewish and being a Zionist are not the same thing. There are many Jews who reject Zionism and there are many non-Jews who accept the ideas of Zionism. Before the Second World War, Zionism was only a minority current among Jews.
Therefore it is not antisemitic to oppose the Israeli bombardment of Gaza. And it is offensive to call London’s pro-Palestine rally a “disgusting antisemitic spectacle”, as Douglas Murray did in the Spectator magazine.
One of the more depressing elements of this debate is how some Zionists have distorted the facts in order to blame Muslims for the increase in antisemitism. Let’s look at the newspaper reports again.
The Jerusalem Post quotes a Community Security Trust statement about a 400-strong mob marching on St John Wood, an area with a large Jewish minority, after the pro-Palestine demo at the BBC. This is just not true.
The police state that the group was not marching on St John Wood, but was just making its way back to Regents Park Mosque. In fact the Jerusalem Post admits this as a possibility. In response to our enquiry, the Metropolitan Police press office confirmed that no attack on a Jewish person was reported in connection with the demo.
Secondly both the Sunday Times and the Independent cite the attack on a synagogue in Belfast as part of a spike in antisemitism as a result of the Israel/Palestine conflict. It is absolutely true that a synagogue was attacked in Belfast and that it was an antisemitic attack, but hidden away in the Belfast Telegraph newspaper is the following:
The Star of the Sea Catholic Church in Newtownabbey was also attacked at the weekend (again), and Belfast’s Islamic Centre has recently been targeted too – this needs to be condemned utterly.
These attacks seem to have all the hallmarks of Loyalist racism and bigotry.
However, there are some individuals who do make antisemitic comments in relation to Israel’s attacks on Gaza, or who confuse opposition to Zionism with opposition to Jews. Part of that problem comes from the Zionists themselves: if you continue to equate Jewish people with Zionists, or to claim that that the Israeli state represents all Jewish people, it is no surprise when others do the same.
We believe that some people say and do things out of ignorance or in anger – this is how individuals can come out with antisemitic remarks. You could make exactly the same point about Jews or Christians making racist comments about Muslims. But comparing such individuals to “Nazis” or out and out dedicated racists will not do. Instead, we can and must challenge their antisemitic ideas.
We do not believe there is any evidence of the left ignoring antisemitism – those who claim this is the case give no evidence to support their claim. In fact the left and Muslim organisations have a proud history of opposing antisemitism.
In June this year, Jewish graves in Manchester were desecrated. Jewish, Muslim and Christian people, local socialists and Manchester’s Unite Against Fascism (UAF) group all took part in the clean-up operation. And when Polish fascists in north London threatened a local community festival and attacked orthodox Jews, the local UAF group called vigils deploring the attack.
We need to oppose antisemitism at every level, but comparing the antisemitism sometimes displayed by an individual on a pro-Palestine demo with that of fascist Jean-Marie Le Pen in France or the nazi Jobbik party in Hungary is just not sensible.
We reject Hope not Hate’s suggestion that the present levels of antisemitism in Britain are comparable with the levels of racism Muslims experienced after the horrific murder of Lee Rigby.
The only thing comparable to the hatred poured on Muslims in Britain in recent years is what was faced by the Jewish population here in the 1930s. Every day, the media runs story after story denouncing Islam and Muslims. All the mainstream political parties spout rhetoric against Muslims. And Muslims have been the main target of Nazi organisations like the British National Party and the English Defence League. This does not mean excusing antisemitism when it arises – but it does mean having a sense of proportion, while tackling all manifestations of anti-Jewish racism.
But we also have to be clear that Nazis and racists are consciously using racism to divide and rule. They understand only too well that if everyone turns on Muslims, they can be easily turned against the fascists’ other targets: Jews, socialists, LGBT people, the Roma – and all the other groups who fell victim to the Nazis’ terror.
It is in all our interests to unite against all forms of racism.