Text size

The number of anti-Semitic incidents in Britain recorded during 2001 has been roughly the same as in 2000, says Mike Whine, a senior executive with Community Security Trust (CST), a long-established and widely respected community defense organization. Whine also serves as director of the defense committee of the Board of Deputies. In 2000, however, the figure was fully 50 percent higher than in the previous year – accountable, says Whine, to the surge that came with the outbreak of the intifada. Violence to person or property accounts for “much less than half” of the statistics. Most incidents monitored by CST are of threats, hate mail, Internet assaults.

“It is much better to be a Jew here than a Muslim,” Prof. Barry Kosmin of JPR muses wryly, and Whine agrees. It is much better, too, judging by the statistics, to be a Jew on the streets of London than on the streets of Paris. Is this because there are far fewer incidents, or because British Jewry, unlike French Jewry, is traditionally low-key, not to say suppressive, in its publication policy?

“More the former,” Whine says, “though it’s true we don’t as a rule publish incidents without the consent of the victims. We ourselves feel the public does have a right to know, but individuals or organizations under attack – say, a cemetery or a synagogue – may feel differently, and we will respect that.”

Since September 11, the component of Muslim-originating attacks has clearly risen while the proportion of more familiar fascistic anti-Semitism has probably declined – since, to put it crudely, the rightist hoodlums are busy beating and vandalizing the Muslims. The Board of Deputies and the CST, with which it is closely linked, have cooperated over recent years with Muslim organizations against their common enemy, the neo-fascist far right. But now relations have come to a halt, “on almost all levels,” says Board president Jo Wagerman (though there are still some efforts at inter-religious dialogue).

“I daresay that the good relations could have continued, had we been condemnatory of Israel. Some Jews here are. But I’m a vociferous Zionist. I stand in the public view as a defender and promoter of Israel. Some of my grandchildren, like those of many British Jews, live in Israel. Anglo-Jewry is much more closely bonded to Israel, especially since 1967, than, say, American Jewry.”

“Vociferous Zionist,” she is at pains to stress, does not necessarily mean hard-liner. She supported the Clinton-Barak-Arafat peace deal that was never clinched. “We don’t hate the Palestinians. British Jewry wants the Palestinian state to be a success.” The souring of relations with the Muslim community has created “a desperately unhappy situation.” Ironically, the widespread racist attacks against the Muslims are a further cause for Wagerman’s sense of “real concern. We know from our experience that a move against one minority group is a move against all.”

In all, she says, the New Anti-Semitism “doesn’t mean fascist storm troopers marching through the streets of Hendon today or tomorrow. Life in the ghetto is largely untouched. But out on the fringes, the change is palpable. In Canterbury recently, a woman came up to me, and, literally shaking, told me of a conversation with her neighbor of 29 years whom she had always regarded as a friend. ‘You Jews,’ said the neighbor, matter-of-factly, ‘have got a lot to answer for.’”