September 26, 2018

UK Activist Goes After Anti-Semites

Anti-Semitic incidents in the United Kingdom hit a record high in 2017, according to a recent study by the Community Security Trust, a Jewish nonprofit in Britain that monitors anti-Semitism.

British entrepreneur Gideon Falter, founding chair of the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism, a volunteer-led nonprofit dedicated to exposing and countering anti-Semitism, said he was not surprised by the study’s findings, because perpetrators of anti-Semitic acts in the country typically do not face punishment.

“Until now, it has been relatively easy to be an anti-Semite in Britain,” Falter told the Journal during a recent fundraising trip to Los Angeles for his organization. “Essentially, if you commit an anti-Semitic crime in Britain, getting prosecuted has felt as likely as winning the lottery.”

The Community Security Trust study found that the number of anti-Semitic attacks recorded in the U.K. rose slightly in 2017 to 1,382 cases, a 3 percent increase from 2016 and marking a record high. The study also determined that the number of violent anti-Semitic assaults rose to 145, compared to 108 in 2016, a 34 percent increase.

Trained in law, the 34-year-old Falter, who has worked in high-tech, commercial real estate and management consultancy, formed his organization four years ago to do what he said the government is not doing: punishing the perpetrators.

“We are trying to ensure that if somebody engages in anti-Semitism, the person suffers a criminal, a professional, a financial or a reputational cost.” — Gideon Falter

The seeds for Falter’s organization were sown four years ago following the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers by Hamas terrorists. Israel responded with a 10-day aerial bombardment of Hamas strongholds in Gaza, followed by a ground invasion, which ignited fresh anti-Semitic demonstrations in London, where protestors paraded through city brandishing “Hitler Was Right” signs.

Falter called the demonstrations “the ugliest anti-Semitic gatherings I had ever seen.” Anticipating a large police response to the demonstrations, Falter said, “instead, I saw it being tolerated.”

In response, Falter organized a counter-rally. “We got four-and-a-half thousand people together outside the Royal Courts of Justice,” he said.

Wanting to form something more enduring, Falter met shortly afterwards with Prime Minister Theresa May. “She was kind enough to go on live television and praise the work we are doing,” he said.

Falter recruited men and women who shared his vision of a volunteer-driven campaign against anti-Semitism staged heavily, but not solely, in courtrooms.

“I designed an organizational structure for a new campaign that would enable us — at a fraction of the usual cost of running a Jewish community organization — to forcefully bring about zero tolerance and enforcement of the law,” he said.

Three-and-a-half years later, Falter has brought together lawyers, journalists and IT consultants. They monitor anti-Semitic discourse on campuses, help explain the organization’s position to the government, and go into court to fight their cases in front of public galleries that are sometimes packed with neo-Nazis.

“We are trying to ensure that if somebody engages in anti-Semitism, the person suffers a criminal, a professional, a financial or a reputational cost,” he said.

The Campaign has employed the process of judicial review to scrutinize and reverse decisions made by the British government and authorities.

“We have called for zero-tolerance enforcement of the law against anti-Semitism,” Falter said. “That is what politicians have promised. But they have not delivered. Therefore, it is up to us.”

Falter said that a perceived passivity by the British Jewish community may be partially to blame.

“I never understood why some people get used to anti-Semitism,” he said. “As anti-Semitic crime surges, some Jews observe that nothing feels different to them, because nothing has happened to them personally.”

Falter said his determination to penalize those who hate Jews separated him from traditional Jewish warriors against anti-Semitism. “We use our own lawyers to privately prosecute,” he said. “We have taken the [government] to court when it has failed to act against anti-Semites.”

Last summer, the organization commissioned a controversial poll that determined that 30 percent of British Jews have considered emigrating because of anti-Semitic fears.

In a video blog reported by Britain’s Jewish News, Simon Johnson, chief executive of the Jewish Leadership Council, said the poll results were “nonsense” and “unrepresentative” of British Jewry. Johnson accused Falter’s group of “scaremongering.”

“It is beholden on organizations to never sensationalize anti-Semitism,” Johnson said.

Falter responded by calling on Johnson to apologize or resign his position. Johnson refused. However, the Jewish News removed the video “in the interest of communal relations.”

Falter traces his Jewish pride back to when he was 9 years old.

His parents are publishers who “produce beautiful facsimiles of ancient Hebrew manuscripts, the finest in the world,” Falter said.

In 1992, on the 500th anniversary of the expulsion of the Jews from Spain, Falter’s parents were commissioned to produce a replica of the Alba bible, a 1430 manuscript, and present it to the king and queen in Spain. Falter and his brother accompanied their parents on the trip.

Standing in a huge church in Toledo, Falter said, “I looked up and saw a Star of David. I asked a guide why it was there.” The guide explained the site formerly was a synagogue that had been taken over by the Catholic church.

“The experience tore me emotionally,” Falter said. “Child that I was, I could not understand how one could be in the presence of the beautiful tradition and civilization of the Jewish people and want to annihilate it.”

Now he defends it.