Worst wave of hate for quarter of a century

Gaza war being used as an excuse for racism, says CST


Anglo-Jewry is in the middle of the worst outbreak of antisemitism in Britain since the Community Security Trust started keeping records a quarter of a century ago.

Since the start of the Israeli offensive into Gaza on December 27, more than 150 incidents across the country have been recorded.

CST director of communications Mark Gardner said: “Antisemites are using an overseas conflict as an excuse for their racism, and this should be clearly condemned by all sectors of society. In particular, we are seeing the inevitable antisemitic impact of many years of anti-Israel hysteria, in addition to an enraged response to TV and newspaper images of this conflict.”

There have been assaults on individuals, an arson attack on a synagogue, dozens of incidents involving hate mail, emails and threatening and abusive telephone calls and many daubings and graffiti.

Communal leaders have been involved in a flurry of political activities this week, meeting Foreign Secretary David Miliband on Monday and Communities and Local Government secretary Hazel Blears on Tuesday.

Jeremy Newmark of the Jewish Leadership Council and Jon Benjamin of the Board of Deputies, said: “The community should feel reassured that their concerns are being clearly and regularly articulated at the heart of government during these difficult times.”

One aim of the meetings was to persuade the government to speak out about the startling rise in antisemitism. The only mention by a minister had been a letter from Mr Miliband to Board of Deputies president Henry Grunwald last Friday, in which he said: “I am alarmed at the attempts of extremist voices in the UK to use the conflict to legitimise antisemitic sentiments. I remain concerned by reports of this rhetoric manifesting itself in violent acts and threats against UK synagogues and the Jewish community.”

On Tuesday, the CST, in a deputation with the Board and the Jewish Leadership Council, presented Ms Blears and junior minister Sadiq Khan with a dossier of the incidents. They outlined their concerns about security, particularly near schools and campuses.

After the meeting, Ms Blears said: “The government strongly condemns the increase in antisemitic incidents and understands the fears and concerns of the Jewish community in Britain. British Jews, like all communities, must be able to live their lives free from fear of verbal or physical attack.”

On Wednesday, Ms Blears sent a letter to all synagogues in Britain saying that the government would not “tolerate racists and trouble-makers disrupting our local communities” and that “international events, however distressing, provide no justification for violence”. She said it was “important to recognise, and to build on, the excellent interfaith work and dialogue that both the Muslim and Jewish communities have developed in recent years”.

A young Orthodox man was viciously beaten after last Wednesday’s pro-Israel rally in what is perhaps the most serious incident.

Daniel Lowe, from Hendon, a bearded Orthodox Jew who wears a kippah, was a founding member of MuJewz, the Muslim-Jewish dialogue group at Oxford University. He had attended last Wednesday night’s pro-Israel rally in Kensington and was on his way to visit friends nearby afterwards when he was attacked.

He said: “As I was about to knock on their door, someone behind me said hello.” He turned to find two men of Asian appearance, one wearing a Palestinian flag on his jacket, the other wearing a keffiyeh. “They asked me where I had been. When I told them it was none of their business, they punched me in the head, pushed me to the ground and kicked me.”

Mr Lowe said the attack made him even more determined to attend Sunday’s Trafalgar Square event: “Jews shouldn’t be attacked for expressing their views in public.”

On Tuesday, a gang of Palestinian supporters forced their way into the offices in central London of the Israel lobbying organisation Bicom after a man called saying he was delivering a parcel.

Eight men and women — one armed with a loudhailer — shouted at and intimidated staff, ripped out computer cables, cut telephone lines and threw leaflets out of the windows.

One staff member said: “They were very aggressive, and asked whether we were Jewish and why we were supporting Israel. It was very frightening.”

It is understood that detectives at Westminster are investigating the criminal damage and viewing CCTV footage of the incident.

Bicom chief executive Lorna Fitzsimons said: “The vandalism and thuggery at our offices and against my staff this morning was utterly reprehensible. Bicom is a pro-peace organisation that promotes understanding and dialogue, often promoting moderate Palestinian voices for the sake of a speedy and peaceful resolution to the conflict in the Middle East.”

Both Marks & Spencer and John Lewis contacted suppliers this week to ask whether goods they stocked originated from Israel.

But both companies insisted that they were regular routine calls and that the timing was coincidental.

On Saturday, three protestors were arrested after occupying an Israeli-owned cosmetics store in central London.

The protestors chained themselves to the door of the Ahava store in Covent Garden, forcing it to close for around five hours. They also hung a banner in the window accusing the company of “funding Israeli war crimes in Gaza”.

A protest in Belfast on Saturday by pro-Palestinian campaigners against a stall selling Israeli products is being investigated by police as a racially motivated incident. Video footage posted on the internet showed the Sea Spa stall, which sells Dead Sea cosmetics, being deluged with leaflets from a balcony above as demonstrators shouted “Boycott Israeli goods”.

In Bristol, one man was arrested after about 30 pro-Palestinian protestors entered a city centre branch of Marks & Spencer, filled their trollies with Israeli produce and then refused to pay.

Birmingham City Council failed to agree a statement on the Middle East crisis after a debate on Tuesday. Both the ruling Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition and the Labour opposition had released statements before the meeting supporting an immediate ceasefire, but could not resolve their differences. A discussion document supporting sanctions against Israel had been presented by four out of the 120 city councillors, from the Labour, Lib Dem, Conservative and Respect parties. But it was not tabled as a resolution, nor was any vote taken.

A speech by Muslim academic Azam Tamimi, who spoke at last Saturday’s anti-Israel rally, shouting: “We’re all Hamas now,” has been reported to the police.

A CST spokesman said it had taken “numerous enquiries” about whether the speech breached anti-terrorism legislation.

“The CST will do its utmost to ensure that the police are made aware of our community’s concerns. We have been asked about a speech at last Saturday’s anti-Israel rally that may breach glorification of terrorism legislation. This will be passed to police for their consideration and possible investigation.”

Israeli sources confirmed this week that a planned flying visit by Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu to London had been postponed after Downing Street failed to give him the opportunity of a meeting with Gordon Brown.

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