Anti-Semitic incidents reach record high for Jews in Britain
LONDON — Nat and her husband have always talked about moving to Israel, but the time never seemed right. The London residents had good jobs, were surrounded by friends and family and their three kids were happy in school. Then this past summer, during the conflict between Israel and Gaza, they decided it was definitely time to go.
“We saw such hatred on social media towards Jews and Zionists in particular that it made us realize we are all alone,” said Nat, who asked that her last name not be used as she had not yet informed her work of her plans. “No one stuck up for us. It was shocking to see such an underlying hatred from both non-Jewish friends and the wider British community.”
Nat’s move comes as the figures for anti-Semitic incidents in the United Kingdom have reached a new high. In 2014, there were 1,168 anti-Semitic incidents recorded across the country, according to the Community Security Trust, or CST, a charity that monitors anti-Semitism and provides security for the Jewish community in Britain. It is the highest annual total the organization has ever recorded and more than double the 535 incidents recorded in 2013. The previous highest annual total was in 2009, with 931 anti-Semitic incidents recorded by CST.
The conflict in Israel and Gaza was the main factor for the increase, according to the CST. However, it had already recorded a 38 percent increase in incidents in the first six months of 2014 compared with the same period in 2013.
“The Jewish community should not be defined by anti-Semitism, but last year’s large increase in recorded incidents shows just how easily anti-Semitic attitudes can erupt into race hate abuse, threats and attacks,” said David Delew, chief executive of the CST. “Thankfully most of the incidents were not violent but they were still shocking and upsetting for those who suffered them, and for the wider Jewish community.”
Although it is difficult to compare incident figures from country to country, the numbers from the U.K. stand out sharply in comparison to the United States, where there is a significantly larger Jewish population. Over the past decade, there has been a decline in the number of anti-Semitic incidents in the States, with the total number falling by 19 percent in 2013 to 751 across the country, according to the Anti-Defamation League, which has yet to release its statistics for 2014. Despite the drop, around 60 percent of the victims of anti-religious hate crime incidents were Jewish, according to the FBI.
In the United Kingdom, there were 81 violent assaults recorded in 2014, an increase of 17 percent from a year earlier and the highest number since 2011, according to the CST. In the one example of “extreme violence,” the victim was called a “Jewish c***” and then hit with a glass and a baseball bat. Other incidents included people shouting anti-Semitic slogans and throwing food, eggs and even a stone in one case.
There were also 81 incidents of damage and desecration of Jewish property; 884 incidents of abusive behavior; 92 direct threats; 30 cases of mass-mailed anti-Semitic leaflets or emails; and 233 incidents that involved the use of social media to threaten or abuse, including an image that circulated on Twitter showing a dining table with nooses hanging over every chair, and a caption reading, “Preparing for dinner with some Jews!”
To put the CST figures into perspective, the ADL gives the U.K. a score of 8 percent on its worldwide anti-Semitism index, one of the lowest in the world.
Long-established British Jewish organizations have an ongoing dialogue with the government on the topic of anti-Semitism as well as other issues that affect the nation’s Jews. However, during the conflict in Gaza over the summer, many Jews felt that these groups took too long to address threats to the community. In response, the grassroots organization Campaign Against Anti-semitism was formed. In the months since, it has met with government representatives and has often been featured in the media.
“Despite the numbers, Britain is a good place for the Jews, especially when compared to France,” said Jonathan Sacerdoti, director of communications for the CAA. “But that doesn’t mean we ought not to discuss this. We have many of the same ingredients that France had and that could get us to a similar position. What we are trying to do is raise awareness in the Jewish community, the government and the media so we can start to deal with these issues now.”
Alongside the increase in incidents against British Jews, there has been relatively small increase in the number of families leaving the U.K., according to the Jewish Agency for Israel, which helps Jews from around the world immigrate to Israel. In 2014, 617 people left the U.K. for Israel, compared with 523 the year before, an 18 percent increase. The numbers are a drop in the ocean compared with France, where 7,086 left for Israel in 2014, compared with 3,293 a year earlier.
“The numbers from France have been gradually increasing every year for the past three or four years,” said Avi Mayer, a spokesman for the Jewish Agency. “We just haven’t seen the same trends in the UK.”
Still, there are many such as Nat who feel that thanks to the attitudes toward Jews, their future is in Israel and not in the country they’ve called home for so long.
“This move is all for my children,” she said. “I am uprooting my family and giving up on our British lifestyle and heritage because I only see the situation here deteriorating. The government here is amazing, but no one can control the radicalisation of people. I just cannot see how it is going to get better.”
Rachel Stafler is a freelance writer living in London.