The recent war in Gaza resulted in record levels of antisemitism in Britain, according to the latest Community Security Trust (CST) findings.
A record number of anti-Semitic incidents took place in July 2014 (302), which is a staggering increase from the same period last year (where the CST recorded 59 incidents).
Just over half of incidents in July made direct reference to the conflict – as the lines between naked bigotry and legitimate criticism of Israel became blurred.
Too often, social media became a tool to spread antisemitic memes and cartoons that echoed dehumanising Nazi caricatures. Some invoked historic blood libels, or downplayed the historically recognised term antisemitism by claiming Palestinians are also Semites.
On a street level, we find various examples of verbal and physical abuse. In Bradford, a Jewish man was labelled a “fucking Jewish bastard” after declining to donate money to group collecting for Gaza.
In Gateshead, a rabbi suffered minor injuries after four youths assaulted him outside a Jewish study centre.
As the CST’s Mark Gardner stated: “The high proportion of offenders who appear to come from sections of the Muslim community is of significant concern, raising fears that the kind of violent antisemitism suffered by French Jews in recent years may yet be repeated here in the UK.”
Progressive movements and sections of the left rightly point out antisemitism on the right – but it must also be a self-critical movement – a movement that will challenge the same bigotry within its own ranks.
Last year, the Fundamental Rights Agency survey of European Jews and anti-Semitism noted that 57 per cent of British Jews felt those of a left-wing persuasion made negative statements about Jewish people in the previous 12 months. Only slightly behind, were those with a ‘Muslim extremist’ view (56 per cent).
Improved dialogue might reduce this figure and help others understand why some British Jews consider the BDS movement (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) antisemitic. The likes of Douglas Murray must not monopolise the dialogue on antisemitism in Britain.
Murray disingenuously wrote, “Thousands of anti-Semites have today succeeded in bringing central London to an almost total standstill.” Solidarity groups are now making greater efforts to remove offensive signs at marches.
Whether it is Sainsbury’s removing kosher products, or George Galloway inflammatorily declaring his constituency ‘Israel-free’ – we must not lose our common empathy with Jewish communities who feel marginalised by this rhetoric and abuse.
In a statement, the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) made a plea for unity, “We are nevertheless resolved to ensure that the Israel-Palestine conflict does not affect the excellent relations held between Muslims and Jews in the United Kingdom.”
Collective guilt is a slippery slope that we must avoid (irrespective of faith). British Jews are no more responsible for the actions of the Israeli government than British Muslims are for the murder of Lee Rigby.
Prior to the conflict in Gaza, there were 304 incidents of anti-Semitism in the first six months of 2014. Both sets of stats are alarming and depressing.
To tackle one of the oldest bigotries effectively, we must collectively see past our own disagreements on Israeli policies, and work towards a commonality that recognises this bigotry and challenge it publicly, regardless of political persuasion.