In recent weeks, the Community Security Trust’s London and Manchester staff have undergone intense training courses designed to ensure that our service as first responders to the victims of antisemitic hate crimes is as good as it can be.
The training, provided by the Home Office’s Victims Support Unit, used real case studies, making some of the intricacies of victims’ lives and traumas harrowing for us to hear and comprehend. It served as a profound reminder that a real person is behind every report and statistic we deal with, and that each victim’s reactions depend upon their own histories, personalities and environments.
The experts also stressed that we must not tell people how to actually feel about their experiences, as each victim’s feelings are so rooted within their own individual circumstance. Instead, the CST’s responsibility is to ask the right questions at the right times, listen properly to the answers, analyse the situation and offer constructive advice.
I want to apply this learning in a more general sense to the many challenging questions that arise from today’s report regarding antisemitic incident levels. In summary, the CST recorded over 900 such incidents across Britain during 2009: an increase of 55 per cent from the previous the worst year on record, 2006.
On both occasions, Jews in Britain (and elsewhere around the world) suffered a wave of antisemitic attack, triggered by conflicts directly involving Israel. Whatever you think of Israeli politics, remember that, historically, antisemites have always justified their behaviour on some premise or other.
We have to insist that anti-Jewish racism be as readily condemned as any other type of racism within British society. Anything less and we risk fostering the notion, seductive for some, that antisemitism in the name of anti-Israel hatred is somehow a legitimate form of political protest.
I hope that anybody taking the time to read the report will see that the CST is doing its utmost to present these upsetting and complex facts as comprehensively and analytically as possible. Nevertheless, our community will meet these latest statistics with a huge range of emotions and interpretations; with responses ranging from fearing that there is no viable future for the next generation of British Jews, to treating it like water off a duck’s back.
The CST will not question the integrity of individual reactions, but we do believe that the significant and sustained increase in antisemitic attacks since the year 2000 demands the serious responses that the CST has provided in partnership with a range of communal organisations, politicians, police and other faith communities during this period.
I am keenly aware that discussing antisemitism may cause some people to be afraid to lead the Jewish life that they would otherwise choose. Ignoring the problem, however, will not make it go away. Furthermore, understanding the situation and publicly explaining it are the cornerstones upon which we build strategies and partnerships to combat the problem.
For example, the CST has prioritised the installation of shatterproof window film at hundreds of Jewish sites across the country. Consequently, last January, when arsonists tried to burn down a London synagogue in the middle of the night, they were unable to break the glass. Discussing antisemitism may be discomforting, but it pales against the impact that a fire-gutted British synagogue would have had upon the entire community.
The CST provides many physical and political responses to antisemitism, but the community should augment these by strengthening its own psychological approach to the problem. This does not mean tolerating or hiding from antisemitism. Rather, it is to stress that we must not allow antisemitism to dominate us; and therefore we need to encourage a more robust mentality against it.
This fightback begins by opposing antisemitism when it occurs, whilst consciously appreciating and seizing the vast range of religious, cultural, charitable and political options for expressing your Jewish life and identity in Britain today. Do this, and you will see that not only is antisemitism well worth opposing wherever it rears its ugly head, but also, it most certainly does not define the average day in the life of British Jews.