The Jewish experience in the United Kingdom [England, Wales and Northern Ireland] is one of the
longest in the world. Anglo-Jewry faced increasing persecution from
its entrance into England in 1066 until the expulsion of 1290. Once
Jews returned in the 16th century, however, they became
more and more integrated into society. England was, for a time, one
of the most religiously tolerant countries in Europe. British Jewry
received formal emancipation in 1858 and has continuously grown
larger and stronger. Today, the Jewish population in the United Kingdom stands at approximately 291,000 - the fifth largest Jewish community in the world.
- Entrance & Persecution (1066-1189)
- Massacre at York & Beyond (1189-1194)
- Rule of Henry III & Baron Wars (1217-1290)
- Expulsion of 1290
- The 1900's
- Modern Jewish Community
- UK-Israel Relations
- Jewish-Muslim Relations
Entrance & Persecution (1066-1189)
There were individual Jews living in England in Roman and Anglo-Saxon times (80-1066 A.D.), but not an organized community.
When William the Conqueror arrived in England in 1066, he encouraged
Jewish merchants and artisans from northern France to move to
England. The Jews came mostly from France with some from Germany, Italy and Spain, seeking prosperity
and a haven from anti-Semitism.
Serving as special representatives of the king, these Jews worked as moneylenders and coin dealers. Over the course of a generation, Jews established communities in
London, York, Bristol, Canterbury and other major cities. They
generally lived in segregated areas by themselves. However, until 1177 only
one Jewish cemetery was allowed to be established in London.
During the Middle Ages, usury, or lending money for interest, was considered a sin by the Catholic Church. Therefore, Christians were forbidden to work as moneylenders and Jews were called to that occupation and were able to set
high interest rates. They played a vital role in maintaining the
British treasury and, for a time, the Crown watched over the Jewish
financiers and their property, though they also taxed them onerously. Disputes between Christian clerics and Jews in
this period were supposedly encouraged by William Rufus (1087-1100).
Another influential English figure was Henry I (1100-1135) who
granted the Jews a charter of liberties.
Jews still faced persecution and were not fully
protected by the Crown. In 1130, the Jews were fined 2,000 pounds on
the charge that a Jew had killed a sick man. The first record of Jews
in Oxford is from 1141 when they were caught in the political
infighting of two sides warring for the throne. In 1144, the first
blood libel charge of ritual murder was brought against the Jews of
Norwich. During Passover, the
Jews were accused of torturing a Christian child named William, using
his blood for the Passover Seder, and eventually killing and burying
him. Christians attacked Jewish settlements in retaliation. Despite
Pope Innocent IVs protests about the ridiculousness of these
allegations, the image of a murderous Jew out to hurt Christians
developed in the public mind. These charges were repeated in
Gloucester (in 1168), Bury St. Edmunds (1181), Bristol (before 1183)
and Winchester (1192).
In 1189, the Third Crusade was launched. The Jews were taxed at a much higher rate than the rest
of England to finance this Crusade. Even though Jews comprised less
that 0.25% of the English population, they provided 8% of the total
income of the royal treasury. Despite the Jews financial
contribution, the pro-Christian ideology of the Crusade resulted in
rioting in England and some Jewish businesses in London were burned.
Massacre at York & Beyond (1189-1194)
One of the most notorious riots led to the
massacre of the Jews of York. Jews have lived in York since 1170.
They felt that they could use York castle for protection and felt
secure among Yorks elite residents, who used enjoyed Jewish
financial services. The situation worsened in July 1189 when King
Henry II, a protector of the Jews, died. Richard I was crowned his
heir and he refused to grant Jewish representative admission to
Westminster Abbey, when they came to offer him gifts. Riots were
started and mobs threw stones at the Jews and burned the straw roofs
of their houses. Many Jews were murdered, some allowed themselves to
be baptized. Twenty-four hours later, Richard I found out about the
riots and ordered that the Jews be protected.
As soon as Richard I left to join the Crusade in
1190, riots began again throughout England. In March 1190, a mix of
Crusaders, barons indebted to the Jews, those envious of Jewish
wealth and clergymen conspired to kill the Jews of York. They burned
several houses and approximately 150 Jews fled to the royal castle in
York. Led by Richard Malebys, a noble indebted to the Jews, the mob
besieged the castle. The Jews had little rations and many killed
themselves. On March 16, the citadel was captured and those Jews left
alive were murdered. The mob then stole the records of debts to Jews
from a nearby cathedral and burned them.
When Richard I returned to England, he was angry
at the loss of his chief financial source. He introduced a system of
registering in duplicate all debts held by the Jews to safeguard all
the taxes he received from them. In 1194, he established the
Exchequer of the Jews, a catalogue of all Jewish holdings in England.
The Crown could then arbitrarily collect taxes on Jewish revenue. The
Jews were forced to respond to this exploitation by charging higher
interest rates, thereby increasing their unpopularity with Christian
borrowers. Richards successors continued to tax the Jews in every way
possible. Payment was forced through imprisonment, property
confiscation, torture, and the kidnaping of women and children.
Rule of Henry III & the Baron Wars (1217-1290)
In 1217, the English Jews were forced to wear
yellow badges in the form of two stone tablets identifying them as
Jews. From the start of Henry IIIs reign in 1232, life went
downhill for the Jews. By the mid thirteenth century, more than one third of the circulated coins in England were controlled by a few hundred Jews, leading the king to levy upon them untenable rates of taxation and creating rampant anti-Semitism. In 1232, the king confiscated a newly built London synagogue and in
1253, a decree was issued forbidding the Jews to live in towns that
did not have an established Jewish community. In 1255, the Jews
were once again accused of blood libel. A Christian boy, Hugh
of Lincoln, was chasing a ball when he fell and drowned in a Jewish
cesspool. His body was found 26 days later, when a large Jewish
congregation was gathered in Lincoln for a prominent rabbis wedding.
Some Christians speculated that the boy was killed as part of a
ritual ceremony and 100 Jews were executed. Conditions became so bad in 1255 that Jews volunteered to leave, however their request was turned down by Henry III who considered the Jews royal property.
During the Barons Wars of 1263, the Jews were seen
as instruments of royal oppression and between 1263 and 1266, one
Jewish community after another was ransacked and many of its
inhabitants killed. In 1265, the Crown started dealing with Italian
bankers, minimizing their dependence on the Jews for financial
services. In 1269, the Crown further restricted Jewish rights. Jews
were not allowed to hold land and Jewish children could not inherit
their parents money. When a Jew died, his money reverted to the
government. In 1275, Queen Eleanor deported Cambridges Jews to
nearby Norwich. Also in 1275, Edward I issued the Jewish Affairs
Bill, forbidding the Jews of England to loan money on interest. They
were allowed to earn a living as tradesmen or farmers, but were
ineligible for membership in tradesmen guilds or tenure as a farmer.
The Jews became poor and the king could no longer collect taxes from
them. In 1278, many were arrested and hanged for secretly continuing
their money lending.
Expulsion of 1290
On July 18, 1290, shortly after money lending was made heretical and illegal in England, Edward I expelled the Jews from
England, making England the first European country to do so. Most Jews fled to continental Europe, settling mostly in France and Germany, although some
managed to remain in England by hiding their identity and
religion. There is disagreement over the number
either 4,000 or 16,000) — who were actually forced to leave England. The Jewish exile from England lasted 350 years.
The first evidence of Jews in Tudor England after
the expulsion is in 1494. Under Henry VIII and Edward VI, small
numbers of Spanish and Portuguese Conversos (Jewish converts to
Christianity) worshiped secretly as Jews in London and Bristol. Henry
VIII used Jewish scholars to justify his divorce from Catherine of
Aragon and his marriage to Anne Boleyn. In 1588, the Converso Dr.
Hector Nunes was lauded as a hero for being the first to warn of the
sailing of the Spanish Armada.
In 1589, Christopher Marlowes anti-Semitic
play, The Jew of Malta, was first performed. In 1594, Queen
Elizabeth Is physician, a Converso named Dr. Roderigo Lopez, was
implicated in a plot to assassinate Elizabeth. He was tortured, tried
and hanged on what is suspected to be a false charge of treason.
Anglo Jewry then fled to the Low Countries, often disguised as
Spanish or Portuguese Roman Catholics. William Shakespeares famous
play about a Jewish moneylender, The Merchant of Venice, was
first acted out in 1597. In 1609, Portuguese merchants were expelled
from London on suspicion of being Jewish. This did not stop the Jews,
however, and in the mid-17th century, a new Converso
colony grew in London, made up partly of refugees from Rouen and the
Historians disagree as to the exact date of the official readmission of Jews to England as well as to whether or not it was Oliver Cromwell who granted it. Cromwell came to power in 1649. Some believe he was influenced to readmit the Jews by Rabbi Menasseh ben Israel of Amsterdam, who functioned as a Jewish ambassador to the gentiles. Menasseh moved to London in September 1655 and on October 31 submitted a seven-point petition to the Council of State calling for the return of Jews to England. He appealed to Cromwell orally at the Whitehall Conference of December 4-18, 1655, which Cromwell had called to discuss Jewish readmission. Cromwell gave no official verdict and when many merchants questioned Cromwell’s ideas he angrily dismissed the conference. Cromwell is believed to have authorized the unofficial readmission of the Jews into England. However, when a few hundred conversos living in England petitioned to establish a synagogue and cemetery in 1656, their request was turned down.
The re-establishment of the Jews in England was a gradual process, one which took many years. Jews immigrated to England from Holland, Spain and Portugal and opened a synagogue in 1657.
In 1664, Charles II issued a formal
written promise of protection and, in 1674 and 1685, further royal
declarations were made confirming that statement. In 1698, the Act
for Suppressing Blasphemy granted recognition to the legality of
practicing Judaism in England.
The next immigrants were German Jews who started a
synagogue in 1690. By then there were about 400 Jews in England.
William III knighted the first Jew, Solomon de Medina, on June 23,
1700. In 1701, a Sephardi synagogue at Bevis Marks was opened. A Hebrew printing press started in London
in 1705. By 1734, 6,000 Jews lived in England. The Jewish upper class
still consisted of brokers and foreign traders, but Jews gradually
entered all areas of life. The first Jews were Sephardim, but in 1690
the first Ashkenazi community was formed in London and soon, Ashkenazi established congregations all over England.
In 1753, the Jewish Naturalization Bill (Jew Bill)
was issued to give foreign-born Jews the ability to acquire the
privileges of native Jews, but was rescinded due to anti-Jewish
agitation. In 1829, Jews began arguing for official equality. The
first emancipation bill passed the House of Commons in 1833, but was
defeated in the House of Lords. In 1833, the first Jew was admitted
to the Bar and the first Jewish sheriff was appointed in 1835. In
1837, Queen Victoria knighted Moses
Montefiore. In 1841, Isaac Lyon Goldsmid was made baronet, the
first Jew to receive a hereditary title. The first Jewish Lord Mayor
of London, Sir David Salomons took office in 1855. In 1858 came the
emancipation of the Jews and a change in the Christian oath required
of all members of Parliament. On July 26, 1858, the Jewish Baron,
Lionel de Rothschild, took his seat in the House of Commons after an
11-year debate over whether he could take the required oath. In 1874,
Benjamin Disraeli became the first (and only) Jewish Prime Minister.
By 1882, 46,000 Jews lived in England and, by 1890, Jewish
emancipation was complete in every walk of life. Since 1858,
Parliament has never been without Jewish members and recently the
Jewish delegation has exceeded 40 members. A Hebrew Bible, used
whenever a Jewish member takes an oath, sits in the House of Commons
Central Synagogue, London, circa 1870
In 1841, the first Anglo-Jewish periodical, The
Jewish Chronicle, was founded. It still exists today. In 1855,
Jews College, a theological seminary, was started. It is now an
affiliate of London University that offers rabbinical training and
adult education. A Jewish welfare organization for the poor called
the Jewish Board of Guardians (now the Jewish Welfare Board) was
created in 1859.
In 1863, Rothschild and Isaac Goldsmit of the Ashkenazic community joined Sir Moses Montefiore of the Sephardim to solidify the Board of Deputies of British Jews.
Rabbi Nathan Marcus Adler united all Ashkenazic congregations near London into a United Synagogue and created the chief
rabbinate of England.
With a renewal of persecution in Russia in 1881,
there was mass immigration from Russia to England. The newcomers
settled mostly in urban districts. They virtually created a clothing
industry in England. They started Yiddish and Hebrew newspapers,
fraternal societies and trade unions. The communal leadership
encouraged their Anglicization through participation in English
classes, state-aided schools and English clubs and youth movements
such as the Jewish Lads Brigade. Many became integrated into the
community. The Alien Immigration Act of 1905 restricted immigration,
but, by 1914, about 250,000 Jews lived in England.
In the early 1900s, Jews became active in both
Conservative and Liberal politics. In 1909, Herbert
Samuel became the first professing Jew to serve in the British
cabinet. He later became high commissioner of Palestine.
The xenophobia created by World War I ended Jewish
immigration to England and caused some British anti-Semitism.
The war also helped many Jewish entrepreneurs, however, by creating a
demand for uniform clothing. About 50,000 Jews served in the British
military, of that, 10,000 died as casualties and 1,596 receiving
Zionism began in
England with the Hovevei
Zion movement in 1887. The English Zionist Federation was
formed in 1899. It was Englands Lord Balfour who issued the 1917
declaration officially recognizing Jewish aspirations to a
homeland. Israels first president, Chaim
Weizmann, was also British.
The 1920s were a time of Anglicization of the
community. Small Jewish businesses prospered and Jews became
professional lawyers, doctors, dentists and accountants. Middle class
Jews began joining the upper class at universities and middle class
communities sprang up in the suburbs.
The 1930s brought an influx of refugees from
Nazism and fascism. Approximately 90,000 Jews came from Germany,
Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Italy and other countries. Many
later moved out of Britain and, by 1950, about 40,000-55,000 prewar
refugees were left. Smaller numbers came after the war from Eastern
Europe, the Middle East and elsewhere. The majority of the Central
European immigrants was middle class and brought a large amount of
capital to Britain with them. They created or transplanted
businesses, especially in fashion trades, pharmaceutical production
and light engineering. Other immigrants were professionals,
intellectuals and artists. They strengthened both Orthodox and Reform Jewish life.
There was some fascism in England in the 1930s and
blackshirts led by Sir Oswald Mosley occasionally attacked the Jews.
The 1936 Public Order Act helped control violence by banning the
wearing of political uniforms. The Jews united to defend against the
attacks and also to raise funds to help refugees and to support
settlements in Palestine.
the start of World War II in 1939,
mothers and children were evacuated from London. Many men and women
were away from home serving in the armed forces. In 1940, refugees were
subjected to temporary internment. Some Jewish synagogues and institutions
were destroyed in bombings. Jewish life continued in London on a small
scale and new communities were formed in the evacuation areas. The Jewish
community of Oxford, which had remained small since its founding in
1842, grew with immigrants and evacuees.
During the British
mandate, Anglo-Jewry was split on the question of a Jewish state.
The entire community was against the White
Paper of 1939 that limited Jewish
immigration to Palestine. The Zionist groups and the World Jewish
Congress were for a Jewish state, but the Anglo-Jewish Association
was against it. The groups struggled to balance Jewish national
ideals with a desire for British citizenship and equality. After the declaration
of the State of Israel, the Anglo-Jewish Association adopted a
policy of goodwill toward Israel while also stressing the
responsibilities of Anglo-Jews to Britain. There was some
anti-Semitism in England resulting from conflicts between the
mandatory administration and the Israeli settlers, but once
diplomatic relations were established between Britain and Israel,
normalcy was restored.
An emergency organization had been formed during
the war to control the education of children dispersed by
evacuations. In 1945, a central council for education in England was
founded that represented the United Synagogue and other Orthodox
institutions. It reopened three schools that had been closed during
the war. One, a secondary school, had 1,500 students.
In the 1950s, many Jews began moving from closed
Jewish communities into the suburbs. The United Synagogue started
hiring younger rabbis who tended toward religious flexibility.
Conflicts arose between different segments of the community.
In some areas, mobilizing support for Israel was a
major communal and social activity. Increased involvement and support
of Israel took place after the Six-Day
War in 1967. Israels triumph affected many Anglo-Jews, even
those who were not previously committed to Jewish life.
Modern Jewish Community
Manchester is the bastion of the British Jewish community, with a Jewish population of approximately 30,000. The city has a large population of ultra-Orthodox, who are especially concentrated in the areas of Prestwich and Broughton Park. The Jewish community has split into different
groups. The largest body is the United Synagogue with more than
35,000 families. On the right are the Union of Orthodox Hebrew
Congregations (founded in 1926 and dominated by Hasidic immigrants) and the Federation of Synagogues (founded in 1887 by
Russian-Polish immigrants). On the left are the Reform Synagogues of
Great Britain (1840) and a Union of Liberal and Progressive
The Board of Deputies of British Jews currently
has more than 500 members representing synagogues in London and the
provinces. It brings together delegates of all shades of religious
and political opinion and is considered the governing body of
Anglo-Jewry. It is also taken seriously by the British government.
For a long time, it mostly acted to protect Jewish political and
civil rights. In the 1930s, with the growth of the British Union of
Fascists, it fought fascism. In 1965, it was successful in getting
incitement to racial hatred considered an indictable offense. Since
1943, it has remained active in matters concerning Israel. It
monitors anti-Semitism and works
with other groups to safeguard minority rights. It also supports
other commonwealth countries.
One of the worlds top institutions
for talmudic learning is the yeshiva at Gateshead. The Conference of
European Rabbis is an Orthodox forum that is based in London and is
presided over by the British chief rabbi. The Reform movement set up
its own rabbinical seminary in 1956, the Leo Baeck College, which
attracts students from all over Europe. Significant numbers of Jewish
students attend Englands two largest universities Cambridge and
The Community Security Trust (CST) is responsible for the Jewish community's security and defense activity, often concentrating on combating anti-Semitism. The United Jewish Israel Appeal and Jewish Care are widely supported among Anglo-Jewry, providing welfare and education to disadvantaged Jews.
Approximately two-thirds of Great Britains
350,000 Jews currently live in London. There are large communities in
St. Johns Wood (genteel/establishment), Hampstead
(intellectual/arty), Golders Green (professional/religious) and
Hendon (serious/scholastic). Outside the London borders, suburban
communities include Edgware, Stanmore and Ilford, the last of which
has the largest Jewish concentration in Europe. Nearby Stamford Hill
contains Hasidic groups and immigrants from India, Iran, Yemen and
North Africa. Other major Jewish centers are Manchester, with 30,000 Jews, Leeds, with 10,000 Jews, and Glasgow, with 6,500 Jews.
While England's Jewish community has been in decline in recent years due to a low birth rate, intermarriage, and emigration, the 2001 census indicated that there were more Jews than previously thought.
Hampstead is home to Jewish artists, writers and
actors. Sigmund Freuds last house is located at 20 Maresfield
Garden in Hampstead. Walking down Hampstead Heath, one passes the
homes of various personalities such as Erich Segal, author of Love
Story, and the deposed King Constantine of Greece.
Golders Green is the heart of Jewish London with
kosher restaurants, bakeries, butchers and supermarkets. Golders
Green Road contains Jewish bookstores and gift shops. In the area are
dozens of synagogues, temples and shtiebels. Golders Green has
the Orthodox Menorah boys school, but most educational institutions
are in nearby Hendon. Hendon boasts the Hasmonean and Independent
schools, as well as the Jews College and Yakar, a synagogue known for
its lecture series.
Finchley is home to the Sternberg Centre, the
largest Jewish community center in Europe. It offers Reform religious
services, and adult education classes ranging from Jewish walking
tours to art classes. The center is also home to the London Museum of
Jewish Life, which reflects community life in England since 1656
through documents, photographs and objects. It includes a biblical
garden and a Holocaust memorial.
The Board of Jewish Deputies headquarters is in northern
London, as are the Jewish Museum, which contains Jewish art and artifacts,
and Adler House, seat of the Chief Rabbi and London Bet Din (Jewish
London is home to many old synagogues. The Central Synagogue
on Great Portland Street is a modern structure with 26 stained glass
windows representing the Jewish holidays. The Marble Arch Synagogue
at 32 Great Cumberland Place is the successor to Londons first Ashkenazic congregation
(the original building was destroyed by a German bombardment in 1941).
West London Synagogue at 34 Upper Berkeley Street is the oldest Reform
congregation in London. It has gothic features and a Byzantine-style
In the heart of London, there is still a street
called Old Jewry, dating from before the expulsion of 1290. At the
corner of Threadneedle and Cornhill is the Royal Exchange with murals
by Solomon J. Solomon, once president of the British Royal Society of
Artists. The southeast corner of the exchange was once known as Jews
walk. Nearby, on St. Mary Axe, is Bevis Marks, the Spanish and
Portuguese synagogue finished in 1701. The Cunard Building on
Creechurch Lane marks the site of the first synagogue built after
Cromwells resettlement of the Jews in 1657. Many businesses in the
East End are still Jewish owned and cemeteries, former synagogues,
and open-air markets remain. The former synagogue at 19 Princelet
Street is being converted into a museum of immigrant history.
Many British museums have exhibits of Jewish
interest. The British Museum on Great Russell Street contains an
Ancient Palestine Room. Their manuscript department holds the
original Balfour Declaration.
The National Gallery has several of Rembrandts paintings of Jewish
characters. The National Portrait Gallery has images of Jews from Moses
Montefiore to Israel
Zangwill. The Victoria and Albert Museum contains various ancient
Jewish artifacts. A new Holocaust exhibit, which contains rare items from former concentration and
extermination camps, has also recently opened at the Imperial
Ark at the New West End Synagogue
Ramsgate, near London, is the site of the
Montefiore estate where Moses Montefiore lived. The site contains his
private mansion and a synagogue that he built. The Montefiores are
buried on estate grounds.
Further from London is York, containing Cliffords
Tower the site of the York massacre of 1190. A memorial stone sits at
Englands educational centers, Oxford and
Cambridge, both have strong Christian influences, but there are some
Jewish sites. The Oxford synagogue, at 21 Richmond Road, is at the
site of the original synagogue built in the 1880s. The building was
redone in the 1970s, although one wall of the old building still
remains. The synagogue has both Orthodox and Reform services.
St. Aldates street was once the center of the
Jewish area in Oxford. Three of its houses - Moyses, Lombards and
Jacobs Hall, are thought to have been Jewish homes. At the Botanical
Garden opposite Magdalen College, a plaque commemorates the site of
the old Jewish cemetery.
The Bodleian Library in Oxford contains 3,000
Hebrew manuscripts and 30,000 volumes in Hebrew. It also displays a
bronze alms bowl that belonged to Rabbi Yehiel of Paris in the 13th century. In the Draper Gallery of Oxfords Ashmolean Museum is a
collection of antiquities excavated in Jerusalem.
Cambridges synagogue is located at Ellis Court.
During the school year, students run its services and kosher kitchen.
One of Cambridges oldest colleges, Peterhouse, stands on land once
owned by a Jew. The old Jewish community had two centers. One was
within the triangle made by St. Johns Street, All Souls Passage and
Bridge Street, while the other was a marketplace where Guild Hall now
The Cambridge University Library has a myriad of
Hebrew books including the Schechter-Taylor Geniza Collection
numbering tens of thousands of items. Trinity College and Girton
College also have Judaica collections.
In 1231, the earl of Leicester barred Jews from taking up residence in the city and forced landlords to pledge to keep them out.
It was not until January 2001 that the Leicester City Council formally renounced
the nearly 800-year-old ban on Jews (JTA, January 18, 2001).
The Jewish Chronicle, the Jewish Telegraph, and The Jewish News all report on Jewish communal affairs and serve the northern cities. www.totallyjewish.com and www.somethingjewish.co.uk are UK based websites that carry national and international news.
In 2003, the Jewish Leadership Council was formed, bringing together heads of major national Jewish organizations and key communal leaders in an effort to encourage communal organizations and leaders to be in greater contact so they may better represent the community.
In a historic moment, on October 14 2014 British lawmakers in Parliament voted 274 to 12 in support of a motion that calls upon the British government to recognize the state of Palestine. This vote was symbolic but has no real power behind it, as more than half of the members of Parliament including Prime Minister David Cameron did not participate. This vote for recognition of a Palestinian state was meant to increase the pressure to find a solution to the conflict, and to kick-start the peace process again.
In light of these recent votes to recognize a Palestinian state, EU Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini expressed doubts as to whether the movement to unilaterally recognize Palestine is beneficial to the peace process. Mogherini explained that "The recognition of the state and even the negotiations are not a goal in itself, the goal in itself is having a Palestinian state in place and having Israel living next to it." She encouraged European countries to become actively involved and push for a jump start to the peace process, instead of simply recognizing the state of Palestine. Mogherini said that the correct steps to finding resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict might involve Egypt, Jordan, and other Arab countries forming a regional initiative and putting their differences aside at the negotiation table. She warned her counterparts in the European Union about getting "trapped in the false illusion of us needing to take one side" and stated that the European Union "could not make a worse mistake" than pledging to recognize Palestine without a solid peace process in place. (Bloomberg, November 26 2014)
According to former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, "the only way to create a Palestinian state is to create it on the ground so this issue won’t be resolved in the capitals of Europe or in New York, it’s going to be resolved between the Israelis and Palestinians." (Wall Street Journal, November 25 2014)
The British National Union of Teachers (NUT) stirred up controversy in 2015 when they launched a new education resources package for teachers that delved into themes of Palestinian resistance, and the “occupation” by Israel. In the foreword of the educational resource booklet, the general secretary of the NUT writes that the material was, “inspired by a union delegation visit [to the Palestinian territories] in 2013.” The educational material contains images of Palestinian children who it says were “assaulted by settlers,” and refers to “Jews” when speaking specificially about Israelis. According to Stand For Peace, an anti-extremism think-tank organization, “NUT’s political propaganda and misrepresentation serves the extremist agenda.” (Telegraph UK, August 3 2015)
Antisemitism in England was largely nonexistant or underground immediately following World War 2, as racial hatred of Jews became unnaceptable after the recent tragedies of the Holocaust. Since then the tides of antisemitism have ebbed and flowed with international events, with antisemitic attacks and sentiments increasing for example during and after Operation Protective Edge. Right wing parties in England have the support of an anti-zionist and xenophobic base, and right-wing neo-Nazi groups and individuals have taken responsibility for attacks on Jews and Jewish places in England. For example the 2002 dessecration of two synagogues in Whales and East London was attributed to the groups. In these attacks the perpetrators burned Torah scrolls in the synagogues, scrawled the Nazi symbol of a swastika on the walls, and caused thousands of dollars in property damage. Antisemitic attacks in Britain have been on the rise over the last decade, hitting a high of 929 antisemitic incidents/attacks in 2009. In 2012 there were almost 500 instances of abusive behavior towards Jewish people investigated by police, and 640 antisemitic acts as a whole.
Although there has not been any hard-line Nazi style antisemitism or Jewish condemnation officially coming out of England, the officials, the media, and the citizens often criticize Israel in a way that is antisemitic and non-conducive to the peace process. Ignorant statements by English officials abound: in 2009 the president of the University of London Union resigned after posting on facebook, "The view that Jews have been persecuted all throughout history is one that has been fabricated in the last 100 or so years to justify the persecution of Palestinians. To paint the picture that all Jews have always had to flee persecution is just plainly inaccurate". Later that year a senior member of the British National Party named Steve Batkin was quoted as saying that he believed that "about 300,000 people died in the Jewish holocaust, not 6 million".
British antisemitism has been researched and addressed by government entities on multiple occasions, with recommendations being made to provide further support for the Jewish community. A committee called the All Party Parliamentary Group Against Antisemitism has been active since 2005 with the mission of combatting antisemitism and establishing effective public policy on antisemitism. Citing that there had been a rise in antisemitism in the UK as a whole over the past years, the commission was formed and they released their first inquiry report on the state of antisemitism in Britain in 2006. In this report they concluded and recommended 35 things, of them that: the Home Office (UK Government department responsible for immigration, counter-terrorism, and police) provide a greater level of support for British Jews with regards to their places of worship and schools, that the police have a universal reporting service for reporting antisemitic incidents, that the Home Office conducts further research and reporting into antisemitism, and that an investigation be made into the low number of arrests for antisemitic incidents. The report also states that ". Holocaust denial and Jewish conspiracy theories remain core elements of far right ideology. Any gains in popularity for the BNP are damaging to society as a whole. They seek to stir up tensions between communities and undermine the values of tolerance and multiculturalism that have allowed the Jewish community, and other minorities, to flourish in Britain in the past". Since this initial report, similar reports and government responses have been contuinally filed and continue to show that within certain groups in England antisemitism is still very much alive.
July 2014 saw a drastic spike in antisemitic attacks correlating with Operation Protective Edge. Over 100 attacks occured including swastika grafiti on Jewish houses, and the beating and subsequent hospitalization of a Rabbi. Israeli product boycotts followed, and in a controversial act one branch of the Sainsbury's grocery store in London removed the entire kosher food section from the store in response to BDS protestors stationed out front of their store. Anti-Semitism has become more prevalent in certain areas of the United Kingdom, including Manchester which is home to Britain's largest Jewish community. Jewish organizations have stepped up security measures in response. Local Jewish schools in England are gaurded by multiple armed officers, and schools in the area have even considered hiring ex-IDF soldiers as school gaurds.
To read the British Government's 2014 document "Government Action on Antisemitism", click here.
Since its recognized independence in 1948, the United Kingdom and Israel have shared cordial and strongly strategic relations; the two nations share interests in the fields of political cooperation, immigration (seeing as many British Jews migrate to Israel) and economic trade. However, relations between the two countries began as hostile. During the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, Britain detained 8,000 Jewish men of military age attempting to make aliyah to Israel in Cyprus, so they could not participate in the fighting. Britain supplied weapons to the Arab states, and almost went to war with Israel. When Israel captured the Negev, the British Ministry of Defence began to draw up plans for a possible invasion of Israel. British planes spied on Israeli positions, and war between the two countries became even more possible when four British planes were shot down by Israel. However, the two countries began to soften later on, and trade began. In 1956 Israel invaded Sinai Peninsula in agreement with France and the UK that invaded Suez. Nevertheless, Anglo-Israeli relations became turbulent in the summer of 2006 when Prime Minister Tony Blair, along with many other European leaders criticized IDF airstrikes against Hezbollah targets in Lebanon, which had high civilian casualties. During the current Cameron premiership, relations between the two countries continue to remain close.
The British Royal Society and the Israel Academy of Science and Humanities signed a major joint research agreement in April 2015, worth billions of dollars. An inside source reported to Israeli news organizations that the agreement included at least $5 billion pounds of funding, which will allow for research in all areas of science, technology, and medicine. Officials from both countries hailed this agreement as historic, with an Israeli signatory declaring “the agreement serves as a clear statement in support of the unfettered exchange of ideas”(Times of Israel, April 20, 2015). In addition to funding research as a general statement, this agreement provided grant funding for 12-15 post-doctoral exchange students to study in each country.
With a Muslim population of nearly 3 million, mostly of Indian or Pakistani origin, the Jewish community in England has made concerted efforts to build a strong and steady relationship with the Muslim minority. Mainly this relationship has focused on local issues of concern to both communities and has steered clear of political discussions about the Middle East.
Two main organizations that have been created to foster better relations between Jews and Muslims are the Jewish-Muslim Forum of Greater Manchester and the London-based Faith Matters group. Stamford Hill, a neighborhood of London boasting a strong Muslim community and a rich Jewish history is one of the focal areas in which Muslim-Jewish relations have strengthened. Each community has banded together to fight extremism and racism, especially following anti-Semitic or anti-Muslim attacks.
"Here in London, we have lived next door to our Muslim neighbors for decades, without friction or tension," says Abraham Jacobson, a Haredi Jewish resident of Stamford Hill who serves as a city councilor for the Liberal Democrats in the Hackney District. "We are simply neighbors ... and friends who look out for each other ... I don't care whether the guy next door is Jewish, Muslim or anything else."
Jewish Community Centre for London
6 Park End, London NW3 2SE
Telephone: 020 7431 9866
Fax: 020 7431 6483
Nottingham Hebrew Congregation
Nottingham NG1 4FQ
Marjorie & Arnold Ziff Community Centre
311 Stonegate Road,
Leeds, LS17 6AZ
Tel: 0113 218
Fax: 0113 203 4915
Sources: Shamah, David, “Israel, UK in huge new scientific cooperation agreement.” Times of Israel (April 20, 2015)
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Photo Credits: Ilford synagogue photo courtesy of Ilford
Central Synagogue photos courtesy of the Central
New West End Synagogue photo courtesy of the New
West End Synagogue