As anti-Semitism in Europe Runs Rampant, Will Britain Remain the Exception?

Despite the biggest spike in anti-Semitic incidents since 2009, the U.K. hasn't reached France’s hate levels, where demonstrators shout out 'Hamas! Hamas! Jews to the gas!' But for how long?

Mark Gardner
Demonstrators in Paris gesture the "quenelle" sign on the Republique square in Paris, July 26, 2014.
Demonstrators in Paris gesture the "quenelle" sign on the Republique square in Paris, July 26, 2014.Credit: AFP
Mark Gardner

Earlier this month, I helped launch a report entitled “The Exceptional Case? Perceptions and experiences of anti-Semitism among Jews in the United Kingdom.” Produced by London’s Institute for Jewish Policy Research, it drills into the British details of last year’s urgently needed European Union survey of Jews and anti-Semitism across nine EU countries.

The question mark in the U.K. report’s title, “The Exceptional Case?” is hugely important. It implies that European Jews are an endangered species, and asks if Britain and its 300,000 Jews are somehow the ‘fortunate’ exception in terms of the escalation of domestic anti-Semitism. The survey answers many things, but on this crucial question it remains open to interpretation. Britain scores better than elsewhere in nearly every aspect about experiences of anti-Semitism, behavioural responses and fears for the future. Nevertheless, how many percentage points difference do you need to remain in the European ballpark?

More pointedly, does France and its anti-Semitic escalation predict the future for Europe’s Jewish communities? If so, what about Britain?

Anti-Semitic reactions to the current Israel-Hamas conflict provide a harsh reality check on what such philosophizing actually means. The sober statistical analyses on the page are traded for anti-Semitic intimidation and violence on the street. Not so much pie charts and percentage figures as swastikas and Molotov cocktails.

In Britain, things are certainly bad enough. We have seen at least 130 anti-Semitic incidents in recent weeks and this is now the second worst outburst of its type, only surpassed by the Israel-Hamas conflict of December 2008 - January 2009. So far, the incidents have been largely non-violent – typically verbal and written abuse, including many threats of violence, as well as the trending “Hitler was right” sneer. Of course every incident is upsetting for the victims and those involved, but our community is not unduly panicked and is still able to lead its usual way of life.

When this anti-Semitic wave began with the second intifada in 2000, French and British anti-Semitism were relatively comparable in scale, intensity and community impact. Now, 14 years later, British Jews are still just about able to debate just how bad anti-Semitism really is. In France, they no longer enjoy that luxury. Consequently, just as French is now heard far more often in Israel, it is too in London, with many Jewish families having relocated.

Those who tried to firebomb a synagogue in Toulouse this week must have been aware of Mohamed Merah’s cold-blooded gunning down of Jewish children in the same city two years ago. Similarly, those who are running amok in Paris will know of Ilan Halimi, the young Parisian Jew who was kidnapped, ransomed, tortured and finally murdered.

It needs stressing that the Toulouse and Halimi murders could have occurred in Britain. We have had more than enough anti-Semitic terror plots over the years, from near identical sources. No doubt there will be more in years to come. It also needs stressing that our local anti-Semites would react to such attacks exactly as their French counterparts have: Seeking more blood and intimidation, not less.

The widespread violence witnessed in France could also yet occur in Britain. In 2009, the demonstrations in Central London against Israel’s Cast Lead operation ended with more than 50 police having been assaulted. Branches of Starbucks were trashed and one was firebombed, the manager narrowly escaping injury.

And yet, thus far, the U.K. situation does not compare with France, nor even with Holland and Germany where demonstrations have featured such extreme anti-Semitism that they have become anti-Jewish protests, not anti-Israel ones.

In Britain, protests are organized by far-left and Islamist organizations wanting to attract mainstream support. Crucially, unlike in France, these groups aim to influence society, not attack it. From Europe we hear appalling reports of chants such as “Hamas! Hamas! Jews to the gas!” but this has not been repeated in Britain. Indeed, U.K. demonstrations may euphemistically talk of “resistance,” but they barely even mention Hamas, never mind explicit Jihadist-inspired calls for genocide against Jews. Inevitably, anti-Semitic banners are occasionally seen within demonstrations, but these are relatively isolated examples that have been disowned by protest organisers who (unlike in the 2000s) no longer distribute placards linking Israel with Nazi Germany.

Yet the sanitized language on Jews comes with a wild hatred of Zionism and Israel that is out of all control. It charges them both with epitomizing all that is cruel, hateful and anti-human in society today, qualitatively worse than anything that causes much greater suffering in other conflicts elsewhere. We know where such passions come from and we know where they can end up; and this is one of many reasons why there must be no complacency in what will be an enduring battle against British anti-Semitism.

Mark Gardner is Director of Communications at Community Security Trust, a charity that provides security for Britain’s Jewish communities. The most recent report of anti-Semitic incidents occurring in the UK, published today, can be found here:

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