With anti-Semitism in Britain at record levels, life is changing in subtle and not-so-subtle ways for the country’s Jews.
Armed guards escort Orthodox Jews in Manchester walking to synagogue. Vendors sell Arabic-language editions of “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” outside train stations. Academic and labor unions routinely issue calls to boycott the Jewish state.
Jews in Britain say they feel a growing sense of unease and insecurity.
“Jews today, compared with three or four years ago, are feeling increasingly worried about anti-Semitism,” said Mark Gardner, a spokesman for the Community Security Trust (CST), the organization charged with providing security for the country’s Jews.
Apparently they have good reason to worry. A recent CST report showed that all forms of anti-Semitism in Britain increased in 2006.
Last year saw the highest number of reported anti-Semitic incidents in Britain since recordkeeping began in 1984 — a 33 percent increase over the previous year. Anti-Semitic incidents in Britain have doubled in the last decade.
Jews are violently assaulted and subjected to threats. Schoolchildren face abuse. Communal property and synagogues are damaged and desecrated. And Britain is home to a growing cottage industry of mass-produced, anti-Semitic literature.
The sharp rise in anti-Semitism has not gone unnoticed in Parliament, which in 2005 formed an investigative committee to address the Jewish community’s concerns.
In its first report in September 2006, the All Party Inquiry into Anti-Semitism recommended investigating the reason for the low number of prosecutions of anti-Semitic crimes and developing strategies to combat rising anti-Semitism. The report found that only a minority of police forces in the country were even equipped to record hate crimes as anti-Semitic incidents.
“Anti-Semitism has not been taken as seriously as other forms of hatred in some parts of our society,” Iain Wright, the parliamentary undersecretary of state for communities and local government, acknowledged this summer.
Wright pledged to significantly increase funding for monitoring and classifying anti-Semitism as a hate crime.
But are any of these responses to the problem making Jews feel safer?
In some communities, residents are volunteering to help provide security for Jews.
“Community leaders are trying to find ways to harness the fact that people want to help,” Gardner said.
For secular Jews in Britain, who may not be subject to the same street dangers that visibly Orthodox Jews face, the country’s increasingly populist anti-Israeli campaigns have been unsettling.
“When people start talking about how terrible Israel is behaving, I feel sensitive about it and how it might possibly be linked to anti-Semitism, even if it wasn’t meant that way,” said Lauren Tobias, who works in London. “Then I find myself acting very defensive.”
Gardner said the boycott Israel movement “has an anti-Semitic impact psychologically on the Jewish community. Boycotts remind us of the Nazi boycott of Jews.”
One British journalist, Richard Littlejohn, said bashing Israel has become so trendy that it is “this year’s AIDS ribbon.”
As in other places in Europe, anti-Semitism in Britain isn’t limited to the extreme right. On the far left, in unions and other forums where liberal-leaning Jews once felt politically at home, activists now leading the charge against Israel are driving Jews away.
Josephine Bacon, director of a Hebrew and Yiddish translation company, said she feels under attack at her volunteer office job in the Labor Party.
“I get incredible hostility at work at the Camden Labor Party,” said Bacon, who holds dual British and Israeli citizenship. “The only reason it’s not the same as the anti-Semitism of the ’30s is that Israel exists now.”
Bacon says many Jews are “voting with their feet” and cutting ties with the Labor Party, Bacon said, or “if they stay in the party, they don’t talk about their past.”
Anti-Israel activists by and large reject accusations that their campaigns are anti-Semitic. Ian McDonald, a senior lecturer from Brighton who supports the University College Union’s proposed academic boycott of Israel, said in debates about the boycott, “We have to challenge the notion that to be anti-Zionist is to be anti-Semitic.”
At a recent debate on the All-Party Inquiry into Anti-Semitism, Wright called the boycott proposal “anti-Jewish in principle.” But that pronouncement hasn’t changed matters much on the streets.
Last year the CST launched a program to safeguard Jewish schools and community centers, pledging more than $6 million over a three-year period to install bomb-proof windows in some 600 community buildings.
Despite those efforts to help religious communities across the country beef up security, for some it hasn’t been enough.
British Jews are choosing to move to Israel in record numbers. British aliyah last year set a new record with 738 new immigrants, a two-thirds increase over the year before, according to the Jewish Agency for Israel.
Nevertheless, agency spokesman Michael Jankelowitz said he doesn’t believe the aliyah is the result of British Jews fleeing anti-Semitism at home.
“By and large the reasons for aliyah are positive ones,” he said.
Bacon said that despite the hostility she faces in Britain, she has no plans to move.
“I’m determined to tough it out,” she said. “I think that the current wave of anti-Semitism will eventually die out. But I can’t say how soon.”
The report is available at
Briefs: Condi tries to strike Mideast balance, Chelsea Clinton gets Shabbat-experienced
Rice: U.S. Will Keep Mideast Strategic Balance
The United States intends to help preserve the strategic balance between Israel and the Arabs, Condoleezza Rice said. Washington’s decision to boost defense aid to Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia by $60 billon over the next decade will not blunt Israel’s qualitative military edge in the region, the U.S. secretary of state made clear Tuesday.
“There isn’t anything new in the United States working with its allies for security cooperation,” Rice told reporters accompanying her on a visit to the Middle East. “We are also determined to maintain the balances — the military and strategic balances — within the region that we have been committed to as well.”
The Bush administration wants to bolster allied Gulf Arab states against an ascendant Iran. Israel, which has been rebuilding its own armed forces since last year’s Lebanon war, had voiced concern over the planned multibillion-dollar arms sale to Saudi Arabia, but Prime Minister Ehud Olmert indicated Sunday that Israel was satisfied by Washington’s intentions.
France Urged to Move on Holocaust Archives
Members of Congress urged France’s foreign minister to ratify amendments necessary to open Holocaust archives. Led by Reps. Alcee L. Hastings (D-Fla.) and Robert Wexler (D-Fla.), 34 members of Congress sent a letter to Bernard Kouchner on July 30 urging France to ratify the necessary amendments to the Bonn Accords, which in turn would speed the process of opening the Bad Arolsen Holocaust archives. The International Commission of the International Tracing Service agreed on May 15 to begin transfer of Holocaust-related documents to institutions such as Yad Vashem and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. Before that can happen, the 11 countries involved in the 1955 Bonn Agreement must all ratify an amendment allowing the transfer.
Thus far, eight of the 11 countries have passed the proper legislation; France, Greece and Italy have not. Legislation related to the amendment has been drafted and is awaiting approval by the Council of Ministers before it can be sent to the French Chamber of Parliament for ratification.
New P.A. Plank Omits ‘Armed Struggle’
For the first time a political platform proposed by the Palestinian Authority does not call for “armed struggle.” The plank presented last Friday by P.A. Prime Minister Salaam Fayad instead cited “national opposition to the occupation.” It includes language regarding the “attainment of an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement consisting of pre-1967 borders, Jerusalem as the capital of both states, the honoring of past agreements between the two” and a resolution to the refugee problem based on U.N. resolutions, The Jerusalem Post reported.
Israeli Vice Premier Haim Ramon said Israel should try to work with P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas, head of the more moderate Fatah party, as Israel has a partner for peace for “the first time in seven years.” Israel has yet to issue an official reply — officials have not received the new platform in writing, nor has it been voted on by the Palestinian Parliament.
The platform also declares the P.A.’s intention to exert its rule over the Gaza Strip, which was taken over last month by Hamas. Abbas vowed that an internal 200-page report detailing the failures of officials in handling the Hamas takeover would be implemented immediately. Hamas has vowed to continue its armed resistance against Israel. Abbas told reporters that he hoped to broker peace within a year and has the support of President Bush and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
Brazilian Jewish Crash Victim Mourned
Brazilian Jews are mourning a Jewish victim of this month’s deadly plane crash in the country. Rebeca Haddad, 14, apparently was the only Jew among the more than 200 people killed July 17 when a TAM Airlines plane crashed and exploded after skidding off the runway at Brazil’s busiest airport in Sao Paulo. Haddad had been on her way to enjoy a school vacation. Before boarding, she told her father, “I love you so much. Thank you for giving me this trip.”
Like many Brazilians, Haddad was a fervent soccer fan. Her luggage included five shirts of her favorite team, Gremio. A major team in the Brazilian league, Gremio honored Haddad’s memory with a minute of silence during a recent match.
An official from Brazil’s B’nai B’rith took part in an ecumenical ceremony in memory of the victims held near the accident site several days after the crash. Haddad hailed from Brazil’s southernmost state, Rio Grande do Sul, which has some 12,000 Jews.
U.K. to Deem Anti-Semitism a Hate Crime
British police will begin recording anti-Semitic crimes as racist attacks starting next year. The government also pledged additional funds to monitor anti-Semitic incidents in the country.
“Anti-Semitism has not been taken as seriously as other forms of hatred in some parts of our society,” Iain Wright, the parliamentary under secretary of state for communities and local government, said during a July 19 discussion of Britain’s All Party Inquiry into Anti-Semitism.
Wright also reiterated the government’s opposition to an academic boycott of Israel, calling it “anti-Jewish in principle.” The All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Anti-Semitism was established in November 2005 to investigate the nature and extent of anti-Semitism in Britain and to make recommendations to address the problem.
The report is available online at http://www.thepcaa.org.
Chelsea Clinton Learning About Judaism
Chelsea Clinton reportedly attended a Shabbat dinner in the hopes of learning more about Judaism. Clinton, the daughter of former President Bill Clinton and U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.), is dating Marc Mezvinsky, the Jewish son of two former members of Congress.
According to a story in Tuesday’s New York Times, Clinton visited the parents of a Jewish friend in an effort to learn more about Mezvinsky’s faith. Clinton and Mezvinsky, a banker with the New York firm Goldman Sachs, have known each other since they were teenagers and are both graduates of Stanford.
Briefs courtesy of Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
MUSIC VIDEO: Cockney Melody, Yiddish Ditty (British home movie)
Blasts Bring Fear of Anti-Semitism Rise
Jewish leaders have vowed they will work to combat any rise in racial tensions following the London bombings, amid fears that the attacks may lead to increased anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.
“Certainly when there have been attacks in the past, we’ve seen a spike in anti-Semitism and vandalism,” said Mike Whine of Community Security Trust, the body that monitors threats to British Jewry. “We’ve already seen some extremist Web sites blaming Jews for the bombing, and we would be foolish to ignore it.”
There are similar concerns over dangers to the United Kingdom’s Muslim community, with arson attacks at several mosques around the country over the weekend and Muslim organizations reporting quantities of hate mail. Imam Abduljalil Sajid, a prominent British interfaith activist, said he had seen Muslims being spat at in the street, hours after the bombings. Community leaders have advised Muslims “to keep a low-profile,” he added.
The seriousness with which the British government regards the threat of racial violence could be judged by its rapid reaction. The morning after the July 7 bombings, which claimed more than 50 the lives and injured approximately 700, Sir Jonathan Sacks, the Orthodox chief rabbi, was among religious leaders called to the Home Office, the government body responsible for domestic security policy. The Home Office emergency meeting was held to discuss a joint response.
On Monday, Sacks joined Sheikh Zaki Badawi and church representatives to pledge they would “strengthen those things we hold in common and to resist all that seeks to drive us apart.” (See opinion page 8.)
A spokesman for the Board of Deputies, the representative body of U.K. Jewry, said that it recognized the concerns and would take up the challenge to “develop tighter bonds and increase dialogue.”
Ironically, the terror attacks came only days after a new report released by Alif-Aleph, a Jewish-Muslim dialogue group, highlighted positive contacts between the two communities throughout the United Kingdom. The study, which was welcomed by Prime Minister Tony Blair, revealed that both religious groups increasingly understand the benefits of addressing Islamophobia and anti-Semitism together, with informal, grass-roots exchanges leading to significant and lasting relations, based on mutual trust.
Jewish leaders fear the London bombings may also spur a wider anti-Israel backlash that could affect British government policy.
In a BBC Radio interview Saturday, Blair announced that it was vital to address what he called the deep-seated causes of terrorism, pointing to the situation in the Middle East as the key to understanding the roots of the violence. Though Blair didn’t mention the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by name, many concluded that was his intended focus. His comments were welcomed by pro-Arab lobbyists.
“Once things calm down, there has to be a debate about how British policies relate to the rest of the world,” said Chris Doyle, director of the Council for Arab-British Understanding, a London-based lobby. “I agree that resolving this conflict will help.”
Israeli officials, while expressing sympathy and solidarity, have been at pains to distance themselves diplomatically from the London attacks. That has been a wise decision, analysts say.
“It’s time for Israel to sit quietly,” said Yossi Mekelberg, an associate fellow in the Middle East program at the London-based Royal Institute of International Affairs, a think tank also known as Chatham House. “If Israel connects Palestinian terror to global terror, they fall into the argument that one of the ways to eradicate the root causes of terror is to solve the Israel-Palestine issue.”
That idea has already gained wide currency in Great Britain, mostly due to the efforts of campaigners against the Iraq War who adopted “Freedom for Palestine” as one of their rallying cries, deriding Blair as President Bush’s “poodle” in the war on terror.
The situation in the Middle East was soon being cited by newspaper pundits as the reason that terror hit London.
“The real solution lies in immediately ending the occupation of Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine,” claimed commentator Tariq Ali in the left-wing Guardian, insisting that “the principal cause of this violence is the violence being inflicted on the people of the Muslim world. And unless this is recognized, the horrors will continue.”
This phenomenon is something that the Jewish community, which has a long experience of anti-Israel sentiment blending into anti-Semitism, fears will impact it in coming months.
“People blame the Jews, whatever the circumstances,” Whine said.
Q and A With Floyd Abrams