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Anti-Semitism in the European Union:
United Kingdom

(Updated December 2003)


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The Jewish population in the United Kingdom numbers 280,000, two-thirds of whom live in London; other large communities are located in Manchester, Leeds and Glasgow. The Muslim population is 500,000, most of whom have an Asian background. Between 1990 and 2001 an average of 282 anti-Semitic incidents per year were counted. During the period 1998 to 2001, the average yearly total rose to 305 incidents. In comparison to the preceding year, in 2000 the UK (total population 58.4 million) witnessed 405 anti-Semitic incidents, a rise of 50. One third of these occurred in the months of October and November, “reflecting the upsurge in tensions between Palestinians and Israelis”. The rise in 2000 was also accompanied by an even greater increase in racist incidents. The number of incidents decreased in 2001 to 305, but the Community Security Trust states that “October 2000 proved to be a watershed with regard to incidents. There appears to have been a genuine change, both qualitative and quantitative after this point”: there were 22 synagogue desecrations in the 22 months before October 2000, but 78 in the same time period since, and assaults on Jews since October 2000 “have often been sustained beating leading to hospitalisation, compared with the `roughing up` by neo-Nazis that more typically occurred before.” The data of the CST show that an increasing number of incidents are “caused by Muslims or Palestinian sympathisers, whether or not they are Muslims”. This indicates a change of direction from which anti-Semitism comes, which is closely connected to the tensions in the Middle East conflict.

1. Physical acts of violence

The climax of the violence was reached in the weeks between the beginning of April and the start of May 2002. There were 51 incidents nationwide in April, “most of them assaults on individuals”, compared with 12 in March and seven in February. Some of the assaults resulted in the hospitalisation of the victims with serious injuries. Reportedly, the victims were mainly orthodox and Hassidic Jews. In London, Manchester and Glasgow the windows of synagogues or the Hebrew Congregation were smashed; in London a further synagogue was desecrated.

On 6 May, following a rally in support of Israel, a boy wearing a shirt with the Star of David was attacked by three youths.

On 11 July the synagogue in Swansea (Wales) was desecrated by vandals with graffiti (swastika, and the phrase “T4 Jewish c*** from Hitler”) and Torah rolls were damaged and burned. The attempt to burn down the building failed.

The CST counted 20 incidents of extreme violence (attacks potentially causing loss of life) and assaults during the first five months of 2002. Then perpetrators were described as follows: five white, five Arab, three Asian, seven unknown.

2. Verbal aggression/hate speech

In Edinburgh an Episcopalian clergyman was forced to defend a mural showing a crucified Jesus flanked by Roman soldiers - and modern-day Israeli troops. It was not anti-Semitic, he insisted, but designed to make his congregation think about current conflicts. The Anti-Defamation League criticised that Christian clerics are using anti-Jewish rhetoric in proclaiming the old, destructive ‘replacement theology’ – the notion that Judaism has been replaced as religion”.

Media

Many British Jews are of the opinion that the press reporting on Israeli policy is spiced with a tone of animosity, “as to smell of anti-Semitism” as The Economist put it. In their opinion this is above all the case with the two quality papers, the Guardian and the Independent. After the attack on the Finsbury Park synagogue Jeremy Newmark, official spokesman for Chief Rabbi Dr Jonathan Sacks, said that “anti-Semitic incidents have been rising over the past year, but have shown a marked upturn in the past six weeks as the conflict in the Middle East has reached a furious pitch.” He says that “the anti-Israeli bias of much media coverage here has made British Jews more vulnerable” without though naming any examples.

3. Research studies

Between 16 May and 4 June and between 9 and 29 September surveys commissioned by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) New York were conducted on “European Attitudes towards Jews, Israel and the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict” in ten European countries. Compared to most of the other EU countries agreement with anti-Semitic statements in the United Kingdom was clearly lower: from the four stereotypical statements presented, only 9% of the respondents agreed to at least three (see Table: Report on Belgium). Only with the statement “Jews are more loyal to Israel than to this country” did one third of the respondents agree; at the same time though this number is well below the European average of 51%. A third of the British respondents feel that anti-Jewish sentiments will increase in the coming years. To the question “Thinking specifically of the current conflict (...) – are your sympathies more with the Israelis or more with the Palestinians?”, 30% of the British respondents sympathised with the Palestinian side, the second highest rate after the Danes, while only 16% sympathised with Israel. Here the social contact with Muslims appears to have played an important role: 32% of the British in contact with Muslims “fairly often” sympathised with the Palestinians. In all states surveyed the individual use of media exerted a certain influence: of those British respondents who followed the news coverage “a great deal” or “a good amount”, 41% sympathised with the Palestinian side, while the proportion for Israel was 11%. A survey already conducted in April, “The plague on both houses. British attitudes to Israel and Palestine”, had reached similar conclusions: 14% said that they were more sympathetic to Israel than to the Palestinians, while 28% sympathised more with the latter. Both Prime Minister Sharon and Palestinian leader Arafat were mainly disapproved of (50% and 54% respectively); and 38% and 33% respectively were for sanctions against both sides (cutting off aid and blocking military exports). The Economist spoke of a “steady shift of sympathy away from Israel, especially on the left”.

4. Good Practice for reducing prejudice, violence and aggression

After the desecration of the synagogue at Finsbury Park, on 2 May the Muslim Jewish Forum of North London, a group committed to improving relations between the two faiths, condemned the attack as “a terrible violation of a sacred place of worship”. Some days after the attack on the Finsbury Park synagogue, a petition to “Stop Anti-Semitism in the UK” was placed on the Internet and to be personally presented to the Prime Minister Tony Blair.

5. Reactions by politicians and other opinion leaders

In a demonstration of mainstream political solidarity against racism, two senior Labour and Conservative politicians united on 2 May 2002, to condemn the desecration of the synagogue of Finsbury Park. The Local Government Secretary, Stephen Byers, and the opposition home affairs spokesman, Oliver Letwin, supported the Chief Rabbi, Dr Jonathan Sacks, as volunteers began scraping away spattered paint, repairing broken seats and replacing vandalised equipment. After surveying the damage, Mr Byers said he wanted to demonstrate the government’s support for the Jewish community. “The people of this country will defend their right to practice their religion.” “In the year 2002 this kind of destruction is not what I had expected to see. Any right-thinking member of the community will condemn this as barbaric. We have to ensure that those people who are intolerant, who are prejudiced, don’t have the opportunity of committing this again.” Mr Letwin regarded it as particularly important “that every mainstream political party in Britain shows the solidarity we feel about this attack. It was deliberately intended to inflame relationships in the local community.” The Chief Rabbi warned of the upsurge in anti-Semitic attacks, emphasising though at the same time that the “support from political parties and local communities has been tremendous. Britain must reject racist politics and I’m confident it will. There will certainly be greater vigilance in the community.”

On 4 March 2002, the MP Jim Murphy had submitted a parliamentary question to the Home Secretary, calling for him to make a statement on anti-Semitism in the UK and asking what action he has taken to combat it. In reply the government emphasised that it is “fully committed to tackling racism and anti-Semitism wherever it occurs. We have continued to strengthen our anti-discrimination laws and our criminal law to ensure that it continues to offer some of the most comprehensive protection against racism and anti-Semitism in Europe. In that regard we have introduced the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000; we are looking at ways to implement the European Union directives on race and discrimination in employment; strengthen the law on incitement to racial hatred by raising the maximum penalty to seven years’ imprisonment and extending the scope to hatred directed against racial groups outside the United Kingdom and introduced religiously aggravated offences to add to the racially aggravated offences we introduced in 1998. We have asked the police and the Crown Prosecution Service to work together to pool knowledge and experience in the investigation and prosecution of race hate material. We have also made significant changes to our laws countering the threat of terrorism, including the Terrorism Act 2000 and, in response to the events of September 11, the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001. The Government and the police continue to have a good working relationship with the Jewish community in Britain.”

On 19 April, David Blunkett, the Home Secretary presented, together with his colleagues from France, Belgium, Spain and Germany, a joint declaration on “Racism, Xenophobia and Anti-Semitism” which aims at establishing preventive measures and a European-wide coordination of the responsible offices and agencies.

In response to a question posed by the MP Dismore as to the number of anti-Semitic offences in the last weeks and months, on 14 May 2002 the government declared that the number of anti-Semitic crimes is not collected separately by the Home Office. “The Government condemns all acts of anti-Semitism in this country. The Government and the police are aware of the concerns of the Jewish community and we have received reports from both the police and community organisations such as the Community Security Trust. We will continue to monitor the situation carefully in co-operation with community organisations.”


Sources: C.R.I.F. - Released by the European Jewish Congress

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