When vitriol turns to violence
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Today, my organisation CST releases its six-monthly report on antisemitic incidents, for January to June 2014. It shows a large increase of 36 per cent: 304 incidents across Britain in the first half of 2014, compared to 223 in the first half of 2013.
The reasons are unclear. It may be better reporting rates or more antisemitism. It is probably both. Last month, July 2014, is another story entirely. Here we know exactly what is happening, a significant escalation in antisemitism, with incident levels having more than doubled during this latest conflict between Israel and Hamas. There have been over 130 incidents in the second worst outburst of antisemitism in recent memory: the worst was in January and February 2009, during and immediately after that year's Israel-Hamas conflict.
It may be a small mercy to say that events in Britain have not compared with those in France, but the point is vitally important. Scenes of mobs attacking synagogues and police lines have not been repeated here in the UK. We have not suffered the years of deepening antisemitic trauma punctuated by the kidnap, torture and murder of the young man Ilan Halimi in 2006 and the shooting at Ozar HaTorah school in 2012.
These terrible acts have not caused French Israel-haters, mainly young Muslims, to lessen their rage and many observers are now seriously asking if there is a viable future for French Jews, approximately 5,000 of whom are making aliyah this year. Where France leads, will the rest of Europe follow? Does this include Britain?
We carry on leading our normal Jewish lives
At face value, this month's events suggest that Britain is not in the same position as France: but the potential for violent antisemitism is still very real.
I raised these concerns last week on BBC Radio Five Live. It was the morning after David Ward MP's remarks about Hamas rockets and "Ich bin ein Palestinian", and I summarised some of the many antisemitic incidents reported to CST by Jews from across the country. David Ward's response was both staggering and utterly predictable, a bored dismissal of our communal concerns, "we've heard it all before…criticism of Israel…antisemitism bandwagon".
The next day, there was a splendid article by Emma Barnett in the Daily Telegraph, explaining her fears as a British Jew about hostile impacts arising here from an overseas conflict. Radio 2 decided to interview both her and Alexei Sayle, who has long been a trenchant (Jewish) critic of Israeli policies. Sayle's reaction made David Ward look like Gandhi. He began in the same vein, claiming she was abusing antisemitism to discredit Palestinians before denouncing her as "supporting the murder of children, the murder of women…from a fascist, Zionist ideology".
Sayle's vignette brilliantly exemplified how and why mainstream British Jews end up being attacked for whatever crimes Israel is being accused of. We are aware of the situation and of the group libels, but stand resolutely against them and lead our Jewish lives. That is what CST aims to do and it is what we would ask each of you to do also.