Why war-driven hate is different this time
The Community Security Trust report for the first six months of 2009 will send a shiver through the Anglo-Jewish community.
The report confirmed — if confirmation were needed — what the CST has maintained for some time: that antisemitic incidents rise whenever there is major violence in the Middle East.
What distinguishes these figures from previous years is that they did not return to what the CST says is “normal” until April, three months after the fighting between Israel and Hamas ended.
The report notes: “Previously, whenever antisemitic incident levels have risen in the UK in response to a war in the Middle East, they have tended to fall back to normal levels soon after the fighting has ended.
“In August 2006 (when Israel entered southern Lebanon), it took just a few days for this to happen after the end of the fighting. This year, the number of incidents remained at an abnormally high level for several weeks.”
During the Lebanon conflict, 134 incidents were logged during a 34-day period, the worst count until now.
The report offers several suggestions as to why the Gaza response was different. One is that the story remained high on the agenda of newspapers and television for weeks afterwards. Another is that the number of incidents rose in response to specific events. It gives as an example the BBC’s refusal to screen a film produced by the Disasters Emergency Committee appealing for aid for people in Gaza. On the day the BBC announced its decision, there were 10 incidents.
In January, the CST recorded 286 incidents, the highest for a single month since the organisation began recording figures in 1984 and more than half of the total figure for 2008. In January 2008, there were 43 incidents.
The previous highest figure for a calendar month was 105 in October 2000, the month in which the second Palestinian intifada started.
The highest number of single incidents in one day occurred on 22 January 2009, when the UN aid compound in Gaza was struck by Israeli shells. This figure included a spate of antisemitic graffiti on, or near, Jewish buildings.
In February, there were 111 incidents compared to 52 the year before. In almost every other category, the number of incidents was significantly higher. Assaults were up from 45 to 77; damage and desecration of property was almost double, from 32 to 63.
Abusive behaviour incidents more than doubled the figure for last year, 391 for January to June 2009 as against 167 for the same period in 2008 and 315 for the whole of 2008.
This category included antisemitic graffiti on non-Jewish property, hate mail and verbal racist abuse. There were 44 cases of mass-produced or mass-mailed antisemitic literature, compared with 17 such cases for the same period in 2008 and 37 for the whole of that year. Of the 44 incidents, 33 were sent by email.
Incidents occurred all over the UK. Most took place in London and Greater Manchester, which accounted for more than three-quarters of the total.
In London, almost every borough experienced incidents. The highest occurred in Barnet — which hosts the biggest Jewish population — with 43 in January and a total of 87 for the six months. Westminster came next with 48, while Lewisham had a total of 40.
In the north, Salford suffered the worst outbreaks, with 50 incidents; Manchester had 42.