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
Modern Jewish Community
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.
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 York’s 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.
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 III’s 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 Cambridge’s 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.
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 Marlowe’s anti-Semitic play, The Jew of Malta, was first performed. In 1594, Queen Elizabeth I’s 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 Shakespeare’s 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 Canary Islands.
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 treasury box.
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 awards.
Zionism began in England with the Hovevei Zion movement in 1887. The English Zionist Federation was formed in 1899. It was England’s Lord Balfour who issued the 1917 declaration officially recognizing Jewish aspirations to a homeland. Israel’s 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.
Anti-fascist demonstrators, including many Jews, clashed with British police on October 4, 1936, in what became known as the Battle of Cable Street. The police were overseeing a march by the British Union of Fascists, led by Oswald Mosley, through an area of London densely populated by Jews. When the fascist marchers arrived at Cable Street in East End, they were stopped by the anti-fascist protestors, and violence broke out between the protestors and the police.
With 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. Israel’s triumph affected many Anglo-Jews, even those who were not previously committed to Jewish life.
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 Synagogues (1902).
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 world’s 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 England’s two largest universities Cambridge and Oxford.
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 Britain’s 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 Freud’s 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 court).
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 London’s 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 sanctuary.
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 Cromwell’s 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 Rembrandt’s 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 War Museum.
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 Clifford’s Tower the site of the York massacre of 1190. A memorial stone sits at the site.
England’s 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. Aldate’s 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 Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum is a collection of antiquities excavated in Jerusalem.
Cambridge’s synagogue is located at Ellis Court. During the school year, students run its services and kosher kitchen. One of Cambridge’s 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 stands.
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)
A study by the London-based Institute for Jewish Policy Research, released in July 2016, provided a look into the marriage preferences of British Jews. According to the findings the intermarriage rate for British Jews stands at 26%, compared to the intermarriage rate of American Jews, which was 58% in 2013. The study also found that 96% of children with both Jewish parents are being raised Jewish, compared to 31% of children with intermarried parents. Same-sex couples in Britain make up 1.8% of the Jewish population, slightly higher than the national average of 1.6%. Jews are also more likely than any other group in the country to live as a couple, rather than alone.
Britain's Home Secretary Amber Rudd pledged 13.4 million euros to provide gaurds for Jewish schools, nurseries, Synagogues, and colleges all around the United Kingdom. The announcement was made on November 30, 2016, following the UK Community Security Trust's reciept of 924 reports of anti-Semitic incidents, including 86 violent assaults, during the prior year. Rudd stated that she was “forced to act,” by the anti-Semitic incidents, and during a speech to Parliament assured listeners that the British government “will continue to put in place the strongest possible measures to ensure the safety of [the Jewish] community - and all other communities too.”
Britain became one of the first countries to embrace a new definition of anti-Semitism, published by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), in December 2016. The definition, formally adopted by the IHRA following a conference in May 2016, reads: “Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”
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.
The British anti-Semitism watchdog organization the Community Security Trust reported 767 anti-Semitic attacks in the first six months of 2017; the highest number they have ever recorded for a six month period since they began tracking incidents in 1984. The incidents, which took place from January 1 to July 1, 2017, constitute a 30% increase over the previous year's numbers during the same time period. Violent assaults saw a significant spike, with 80 being reported during the first six months of 2017 compared with 45 during same period in 2016. The Community Security Trust reported 1,309 incidents total for 2016; an increase of 36% compared to 2015.
According to the 2017 Anti-Semitism Barometer published by the UK Campaign Against Anti-Semitism, 32% of British Jews surveyed said that they agree with the statement
in the past two years I have considered leaving Britain due to anti-semitism. The survey also found that 36% of all British adults still believed in various Jewish stereotypes, and one-fifth of British Jews have doubts about the long-term survival of British Jewry. Government efforts against anti-Semitism needed more support according to the Jewish community; 64% of British Jews surveyed answered that in their opinion not enough was being done to combat and punish anti-Semitism.
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.
The annual UK-Israel Science Day was held on November 30, 2015, and new bilateral research and development programs were announced forging increased economic and technological cooperation between Britain and Israel. Israel's Science, Technology, and Space Ministry announced $1.5 million NIS in funding for water, agriculture, nanotechnology, and medicine research funded through the already established bilateral programs.
Former Mayor of London Boris Johnson was appointed to the position of Foreign Secretary by UK Prime Minister Theresa May in July 2015. Johnson has made many visits to Israel, including a 1984 trip with his siblings following his first year at University, in which he worked on Kibbutz Kfar Hanassi for 6 weeks.
British Royal Navy warship the HMS Bulwark docked in the Haifa port on November 22, 2016, carrying a crew of 400+ men and women along with their support vehicles. The HMS Bulwark is the second largest ship in the British Royal Fleet, and it's first deployment was to Lebanon in 2006 to evacuate civilians following the breakout of the Second Lebanon war. In a statement on the Bulwark's docking in Haifa released by the British Royal Navy, praise was heaped on “the growing relationship between the Royal Navy and the Israeli Navy.”
A report based on leaked documents from Wikileaks published by the French daily Le Monde on December 8, 2016, described how Britain’s GCHQ intelligence-gathering apparatus spied on Israeli diplomats, defense officials, and it's military. The report detailed the British intelligence service's successful attempts to intercept and read emails between Israeli ambassadors and their counterparts. According to Le Monde, the British intelligence agency spied on Palestinian Authority officials as well.
Britain's newly elected Prime Minister, Teresa May, praised close ties to Israel during a speech given to the Conservative Friends of Israel organization on December 13, 2016. May referred to the Balfour Declaration as “one of the most important letters in history,” and stated that Britain would celebrate it's centenial anniversary in 2017 with pride.
In response to a Palestinian request to apologize for their role in the creation of the state of Israel, the government of the United Kingdom issued a statement in April 2017 clarifying that they are
proud of [their] role in creating the State of Israel, and urging all parties involved to
encourage moves towards peace. An online petition calling on the government of the United Kingdom to openly apologise to the Palestinian people for the Balfour Declaration garnered 13,500 signatures, which prompted the official government response. Palestinian leaders announced plans to sue the British government following their refusal to apologize.
Following the United Kingdom's decision to separate from the EU in what became known as
Brexit, from June 2016 to May 2017, 32 new Israeli companies entered into business in the UK. These new companies invested $198 million in the UK economy during that time, and created over 880 new jobs. During the same period the previous year 25 new Israeli companies entered the UK market, investing approximately $150 million locally and creating 787 jobs.
On the one hundreth anniversary of the Balfour Declaration in November 2017, Israeli Prime Minister flew to London to participate in centenial celebrations of the historic declaration. These celebrations included a dinner party hosted by Lord Rothschild's descendants, with members of the Balfour family present as well. During his visit Netanyahu met with British Prime Minister Teresa May and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson; once again expressing his concerns surrounding the nuclear agreement with Iran that was endorsed by the U.S. and U.K., among others.
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."
Marjorie & Arnold Ziff Community Centre
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Original article written by Shira Schoenberg.
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Photo Credits: Ilford synagogue photo courtesy of Ilford Synagogue.
Central Synagogue photos courtesy of the Central Synagogue.
New West End Synagogue photo courtesy of the New West End Synagogue