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‘The month of hate’: anti-Semitism spikes across the UK

August 15th, 2021
topics: Anti-Semitism
by: Ithamar Handelman-Smith
located in: United Kingdom
tags: anti-semitism, Israel, Jews, Palestine, racism

On Sunday afternoon, 16 May, Rabbi Rafi Goodwin was driving away from his synagogue in Chigwell, a quiet town in the Greater London area. It was around 1:15pm when two young men stepped out in front of his car and began shouting anti-Jewish slurs at him.

When the religious leader got out of his car to confront them, the pair first damaged the vehicle, before hitting and injuring Rabbi Goodwin with an unknown object suspected to be a brick. The rabbi sustained severe head injuries and had to be taken to hospital for treatment. The attackers were found, and the Essex Police have charged two men in connection with the assault. The rabbi was treated in a hospital after the incident, and has received support from the specialist victim support staff at the  Community Security Trust (CST), a British charity that provides security and advice to Jewish people in the UK. The trial of the defendants had not started at the time of writing.

On that same Sunday, the Eve of the Jewish festival of Shavuot (feast of weeks), North London Jewish neighbourhoods had witnessed some terrifying scenes. A video was posted on social media showing a convoy of cars driving down the streets, waving Palestinian flags, and a man shouting aggressive and threatening anti-Semitic slurs from a megaphone.

The Metropolitan Police said it deployed one of its helicopters to help trace the vehicle and officers stopped the car at approximately 18:30 BST. Four men were arrested on suspicion of racially aggravated public order offences. They have been taken into custody at a west London police station. The police said the video appeared to be filmed around St John's Wood -  an area in north London which is home to a large Jewish community.

‘The month of hate’

Rabbi Nicky Liss was planning his Shavout talk at his north London synagogue when he learned the news about the attack of his friend, Rabbi Goodwin and the fact that members of his congregation were caught in the horrific scenes on the streets of Jewish north London. 

Looking back at that time, Rabbi Liss told FairPlanet that “It all began around the Eve of Shavuot. My wife and kids and other people I know were caught in the streets when one of those convoys went through them, shouting horrible abuse. It was not only in St John’s Wood but all over the Jewish areas of north London.” 

“I think it was the first time ever, for me personally and for many other members of the British Jewish community, that we felt physically threatened,” he added.

Did you raise your concerns with the authorities, and if so, did you get any support from them?

“Yes, after getting advice from the CST I did get in touch with the police. They were very supportive, and they were visiting us every day during that whole period. They tend to do so every time there’s something going on, be it a conflict in the Middle East or a high terrorist alert in the UK and the rest of Europe.” 

The period that Rabbi Liss is referring to is what the CST’s new report, published on 16 July, refers to as “the month of hate.” The report states that “The month of 8 May -7 June 2021 was the most intense period of anti-Jewish hatred seen in the UK in recent years. It saw record levels of anti-Semitic hate incidents.” 

Sharp rise in anti-Semitism 

The rise in anti-Semitic violence and incidents is not unique to the UK. According to a  Human Rights Watch report published in early May this year, this phenomenon is growing across Europe. 

Yet, in the United Kingdom the problem seems to hit record highs. The CST documented in its new report some 628 anti-Semitic incidents between 8 May-7 June 2021, the highest number CST ever recorded in a month-long period. The previous record for any month-long period was 403 anti-Semitic incidents reported to CST between 12 July-11 August 2014, during the last major conflict between Israel and Gaza.

Dave Rich, the director of policy at CST and author of the book The Left’s Jewish Problem: Jeremy Corbyn, Isreal and Anti-Semitism, told FairPlanet in an interview that between 8 May - 7 June this year "the most common type of incidents were people shouting abuse at visibly Jewish people in the streets or on public transport." "But the worst situation,” Rich added, “was in schools and universities, where Jewish students and teachers were shouted at and attacked constantly throughout that period." 

The CST report shows that five hundred and eighty-five of the 628 incidents recorded during the period appeared to be to be motivated by, or related to, the conflict between Israel and Gaza. 

During this time, CST received 187 additional reports that it did not deem anti-Semitic, as they did not show evidence of anti-Jewish language, motivation or targeting. These reports were not included in this CST Research Briefing or in its anti-Semitic incident statistics. 

In comparison, CST recorded 146 anti-Semitic incidents during the same period of 8 May to 7 June in 2020, and 135 anti-Semitic incidents in the month prior to 8 May 2021. This means that CST recorded more than four times the total of anti-Semitic incidents that would normally be expected during the month-long period covered by this Briefing. 

In total, the report shows that there has been a 365 percent increase in reported anti-Semitic incidents, from the 135 recorded in the thirty-one days inclusive prior to the escalation of violence in Israel/Palestine to the 628 incidents recorded in the thirty-one days after.

What is the importance of this report and what kind of audience is it aimed at?

“When you point on a certain issue, it is important to show hard evidence rather than saying there is a problem and to rely only on feelings and notions,” Dave Rich explained, adding that “The CST report goes to the police and the commission for countering extremism, and we do get a lot of support from them.”

So, other than 33 physically violent attacks, most of the incidents were verbal?   

“Yes, this is the case usually. Most of our recorded incidents are either people being verbally abused on the streets or, as I mentioned before, in schools and universities or online. But you have to read the report carefully in order to understand the scale of the phenomenon.”

The report further suggests that the impact of anti-Semitism related to the Middle East conflict on Jewish teachers and Jewish students has been more significant than ever. CST recorded 93 anti-Semitic incidents in schools across the UK Between8 May and7 June 2021. 61of these incidents took place at school premises and 19 involved Jewish school students (identifiable by their uniform) being targeted for anti-Semitic abuse on the way to or from school. 

Nine of the school-related incidents took place online. 56 anti-Semitic incidents occurred at mainstream (i.e. non-faith) schools, most of which involved Jewish students or Jewish teachers being singled out and targeted for abuse by students shouting “Free Palestine” or using other pro-Palestinian language or imagery as tools of abuse. In some cases, this anti-Semitism grew quickly and on such scale that senior leadership in mainstream schools struggled to handle the situation.

Is ‘Free Palestine’ an anti-Semitic slogan?

Sam, an Ultra-orthodox Jew who does not wish to disclose his full name, was walking down the street of his quiet north London suburb, accompanied by his wife and two young children, when a car pulled up and four youngsters shouted slurs at them from inside the vehicle, saying things like “we will rape your little daughter for Palestine,” and so on. In order to calm his terrified little children he told them that the people in the car are just being funny and was trying to laugh it off, but later told FairPlanet that he was truly frightened at the time of the incident.

But not only Jewish students or people who are visibly Jewish suffer from anti-Semitism. C, a young Israeli student who wishes to stay anonymous, works at a Mediterranean Israeli-style restaurant in the UK. During the ten days of the Gaza-Israel conflict, C received  dozens of phones calls per day at work with life or rape threats followed by shouts of ‘Free Palestine’. 

FairPlanet asked Rabbi Liss what he thought of the usage of the phrase ‘Free Palestine’. He said that he believes that the phrase Free Palestine can be a legitimate phrase, but can also be anti-Semitic, depending on the context of who says it, whom it is addressed to and what the person means by that.

“If you shout ‘Free Palestine’ and you mean ‘freedom for the people in the Palestinian territories’ - of course it’s your right. But if you mean ‘free the whole land of Israel’, then where do  you want the Jews to go?” said Liss. “If you talk about co-existence and caring for the needs and safety of the Jews there, then that’s great. But if not, what do you wish for the Jewish population there? So yes, Free Palestine can mean many things.” 

“The problem is that each time there is a conflict there or something of the sort, it's getting a bit worse. The language, the actions, everything escalates a bit every time,” Liss continued. “And as a society we need to ask ourselves what we are going to do about the rise of racism and hate-crime in this country. Not only for the sake of the Jewish community. See the horrible racist abuse that the black players of the England football team were suffering after the Euro finals.”    

Many times, London liberal Jews would dismiss such reports on the rise of anti-Semitism as an over-dramatic reaction to a small-scale issue or as plain hysteria. I, too, as a left-wing Jew, argued in the past against this phenomenon.

But then came reality and slapped me in the face. 

On the evening of 22 May I was celebrating with some Hasidic friends in a famous central London Kosher deli. We were arguing about the subject as I claimed the reports are exaggerated while my friends shared with me their own horrific experiences of the last couple of weeks.

The following day, on 23 May, Alex Menashe and Joseph Cohen, two orthodox Jewish men, were attacked as they were leaving the same Jewish restaurant on Baker Street, and it was then when it dawned on me: an anti-Semitic violent incident is an imminent threat.

Image: Hieu Vu Minh.

Article written by:
ithamar handelman smith
Ithamar Handelman-Smith
Author
United Kingdom
The month of 8 May -7 June 2021 was the most intense period of anti-Jewish hatred seen in the UK in recent years.
© Rob Stothard / Getty Images
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