The Community Security Trust recorded more antisemitic incidents in the first six months of 2009 than it has done in any previous entire year.
Between January and June there were 609 incidents. In the whole of 2008 there were 544. The CST has never recorded more than 600 incidents in one year, let alone six months.
The main reason for the rise was the response to Israel’s incursion into Gaza.
The 609 incidents included 77 violent assaults, compared with 45 last year. Two of these, in May, were deemed to be extremely violent attacks, which might have involved a threat to life.
Incidents have spread nationally, although the bulk occurred in London and Manchester, which together accounted for three-quarters of the total.
The figures prompted concern from leading political figures.
British Foreign Office Minister Ivan Lewis said: "I am deeply concerned by the rise in the number of anti-Semitic incidents as reported by the CST today. The British government is firmly committed to tackling and reducing all forms of racism including anti-Semitism. We simply cannot tolerate those who seek to use foreign conflicts to justify racism and criminal acts against any UK citizen.
"The UK's Jewish community is an integral part of the rich fabric that makes up modern Britain and must be able to live their lives free from fear of verbal or physical attack. The Government was in regular contact with senior community figures and the CST during the Gaza conflict and remains alert to their concerns."
Cohesion Minister Shahid Malik MP said: “This rise in antisemitism is not just of concern for the British Jewish communities but for all those who see themselves as decent human beings.
“The fight against antisemitism is a fight that should engage us all. This country will not tolerate those who seek to direct hatred towards any part of our community.
“Of course, it may be legitimate for individuals to criticise or be angry at the actions of the Israel government, but we must never allow this anger to be used to justify antisemitism.”
Shadow Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, Michael Gove MP, was equally clear: “We should condemn antisemitic attacks without exception, but I am especially concerned by the rising number of incidents involving Jewish schools and schoolchildren. Teachers and staff bear a vital responsibility to ensure that all forms of political hatred and racism are kept out of our schools and playgrounds.
“We have to educate against extremism; but we must also be willing to back our words with disciplinary action when necessary.”
Labour MP Denis MacShane, chairman of the European Institute for the Study of Antisemitism, said the figures provided a wider warning: “These terrible figures show that antisemitism is once more a very real problem in our society.
“It is Jewish people who are currently facing the hatred, but this is a warning to all of us, a warning that the damaging forces of extremism and scapegoating are again on the march.”
CST chief executive Richard Benson called for firm policing and security: “The figures are shocking and show that antisemitism keeps intensifying with each new wave of the Middle East conflict.
“The CST’s antisemitic incident statistics do not even include the many examples of anti-Israel demonstrators equating Zionism with Nazism, or the physical attacks on police officers, branches of Tesco and Starbucks and the Bicom office, some of which were proudly filmed by the perpetrators and posted on YouTube.
“Antisemitic red lines are being consistently crossed as the anti-Israel hysteria mounts — and very firm political, policing and security responses are required.”
Board of Deputies’ chief executive Jon Benjamin said: “Obviously, the perpetrators link events overseas to the Jewish community here.
“All those lazy or malicious commentators who feed those perceptions by talking about Jewish lobbies and Zionist influence should reflect on the impact of their words.”
Commenting on the report, Liberal Democrat Shadow Home Secretary Chris Huhne said:
“Britain is setting a shameful new record in anti-semitic incidents this year, which are running at double the annual rate of the previous record. It is completely abhorrent that anyone should be intimidated on the grounds of their race, colour, gender, sexuality or creed. We all of us are sometimes minorities, and we must stand firm against intolerance shown to any minority if we are to preserve a civilised society.
“It is absurd that home-grown bigots should hold British jews responsible for the actions of a foreign government. We cannot have overseas conflicts echoed on Britain’s streets.”