Waves of antisemitism hit the south coast community

Residents have been on the frontline combating a rise in Jew-hate since October 7


Brighton has seen a surge in anti-Israel activity since October 7 (Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)

Antisemitic graffiti, physical assault and vandalism – these have been just some of the experiences of the Brighton and Hove Jewish and Israeli community since October 7.

A teenager has just been convicted of planning an attack on a synagogue in Hove and one high school pupil was punched in the face by a classmate “because she is Israeli”, said her mother, who did not wish to be named. The abuser was suspended from the Brighton school last month and the Israeli teen had a week off as her bruises healed.

Another member of the Jewish community was assaulted in November when protesters at an anti-Israel rally kicked him in the stomach and ripped down a nearby Israeli flag. The men were arrested and await trial. The victim, 57, said: “Brighton is a cesspit of antisemitism.” He wished to remain anonymous as he fears he will be the target of future attacks.

“People think of London as being the centre of anti-Israel, antisemitic behaviour, but we have huge problems [in Brighton],” he added.

British-Iranian mother, Heidi Bachram, who is married to an Israeli, said Brighton did “not feel like it is living up to its reputation of being a welcoming city. It is a hostile environment for Jews and supporters of Israel.”

Fiona Sharpe from the Sussex Jewish Representative Council said that intimidating behaviour towards the Jewish community and Israelis was also impacting schools and that in one primary school, “pupils are going around asking people: ‘Do you support Hamas or do you support Israel?’”

Sharpe said: “Jewish kids do not want to wear Magan David necklaces; they don’t want to acknowledge that they are Jewish. It is eroding their sense of self.”

“Jewish children feel alienated and fearful [...] it sows seeds of hate. With such a small community, it makes Israeli and Jewish children feel very isolated,” she added.

Jewish university students are also feeling “incredibly alienated on campus,” Sharpe went on. A society at the University of Sussex was an early adopter of the now-nationwide “Israeli Apartheid Week” and was allegedly once home to a student group that lionised PFLP plane hijacker, Leila Khaled.

While the university is working with Jewish groups in the community to support students, in central Brighton on October 8, the students’ union women’s officer, Hanin Barghouthi, called the Hamas attack “beautiful” and a “success”. At a Palestine Solidary Campaign rally next to Brighton’s clock tower, Barghouti said: “Yesterday was a victory.” She was charged under the counter-terror act and awaits trial in June.

But Brighton’s Jubilee Clock Tower was home to anti-Israel demonstrations long before Barghouti. Anti-Israel groups were established in the city when a campaign was mounted to protest against a shop that stocked Israeli-manufactured SodaStream products in 2013. The same ringleaders have galvanized the current anti-Israel momentum in Brighton, according to residents.

“For those of us who have been active in the Jewish community and fighting antisemitism for many years, this is not new,” said Sharpe.

“There’s been a co-opting of the war,” she added, pointing out that much of the extreme anti-Israel campaigning comes from the Socialist Workers Party in Brighton.

Some anti-Israel demonstrators have targeted hostage vigils, while others have used graffiti to spread an anti-Jewish or anti-Israel messages. One display on a broken window featured a Star of David and said: “Free Palestine from Zionist Nazis.”

The graffiti was discovered by a descendant of Holocaust survivors, who said: “The smashed window and Star of David immediately made me think of Kristallnacht.”

“It’s not that I’m scared that there’s going to be a Holocaust, but the images look all too similar to those we grew up learning about,” said the woman, who wished to remain anonymous. Left feeling “vulnerable”, she reported the vandalism to the council’s graffiti complaint unit.

Another Brighton Jew said it remained up for several days before being removed.

More graffiti targeted the local BNJC Jewish community centre with the words “Free Palestina” scrawled in lipstick on the building’s wall.

Sharpe said she had also seen swastikas in rural parts of Sussex, where there isn’t a Jewish community.

There have been daily vigils for the hostages at an October 7 memorial in Hove. Bachram, whose husband’s relatives were murdered and abducted by Hamas, said the memorial had been attacked 18 times.

“It’s been targeted in various ways: theft, vandalism, graffiti. I witnessed a teenager spitting on the memorial and I reported it to his school.”

When an anti-Israel march started at the site of the memorial, the local Jewish community formed a protective barrier around it. “We got 100 people from the community and our allies to come and shield the memorial peacefully. It was a show of strength and resilience. We are under pressure, but it is important to remember that our strength comes from each other and being together,” said Bachram. Using words reminiscent of the Battle of Cable Street, she added: “We showed them that they shall not pass.”

“Community has been everything. It’s the only thing that’s got us through. When the bullies want to isolate us, coming together is a simple act of resistance. I’ve got a whole new social life since this started,” Bachram said.

When a Jewish man stood in the middle of an anti-Israel rally on Brighton Beach waving an Israeli flag, he was spotted by a group putting up posters of hostages – he now frequently attends pro-Israel counter-demonstrations with the group.

The man, who asked to remain anonymous, said: “It’s empowering. It’s your chance to go out and do something [...] I feel more determined than ever to get out there.”

While the community has gravitated towards the city’s synagogues since October 7, there is a residual fear after a teenager was convicted of planning to bomb a shul in Hove last year.

The jury was told that Reynolds had drawn annotated diagrams of a synagogue in Hove that is a five-minute walk from Sharpe’s home and that police had found bomb-making instruction manuals in his home. “It was incredibly frightening for people,” she said.

Although Sharpe says that “for a small community, people have every reason to feel intimidated”, she doesn’t think people should be scared. “We’ve had a number of community meetings with leaders of the council and ongoing meetings with leaders of the police and we have a lot of support.”

Brighton and Hove City Council leader, Councillor Bella Sankey said: “Distressingly, there has been an increase in antisemitism here and across the country over the past six months.

“We have been meeting and corresponding with Brighton and Hove’s Jewish community leaders and members to understand and respond to community concerns, and we work in partnership to address the reported concerns, and reassure and support our communities.

Sankey said that council leaders would “not tolerate anyone committing antisemitic or Islamophobic hate crimes, or bullying in our schools. Everyone in our diverse and vibrant city has a right to feel safe.”

Sussex Police said: “We are aware that the ongoing conflict in Israel and in Gaza is generating public concern and is impacting communities globally and locally, and we extend our support to those affected in Sussex.

“Sussex Police has increased visibility across the county to provide an increased presence and reassurance to our local communities. We facilitate peaceful protests to ensure public safety and minimise disruption to the wider community, but will take action where necessary.”

The Vice-Chancellor and President of the University of Sussex, Professor Sasha Roseneil, said: “The University takes very seriously our obligations to support our Jewish students and staff and to provide a safe and secure environment in which to work, live and study.

“We hold regular and ongoing engagement with our on-campus Jewish community, including the Jewish Society and the Rabbis who form part of our multi-faith, on campus chaplaincy to ensure we are listening to their concerns and that we provide support and work together.

“The University is committed to providing an inclusive, respectful, and supportive learning and working environment for every member of our diverse and international community. We will not tolerate expressions of antisemitism or any form of racism.”

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