CST Blog

British antisemitism today: brief overview at ICCA Brussels Conference

26 June 2012

On 21 June 2012, CST's Mark Gardner and Mike Whine MBE addressed the ICCA Brussels Conference on Contemporary Antisemitism, held at the European Parliament. The conference was chaired by Claude Moraes MEP and John Mann MP; and included presentations by the Fundamental Rights Agency, and brief country specific overviews from Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Sweden and Britain "on the nature of contemporary antisemitism". 

Mark Gardner's presentation, concerning the UK, follows:

My organisation, the Community Security Trust, has collected data relating to antisemitic race hate attacks in Britain since 1984. These antisemitic incidents are reported to CST from Jews throughout the country and are analysed at length in our annual report.

Reporting rates will have improved since the 1980s and we should recall the wave of antisemitism that accompanied the reunification of Germany and the collapse of Soviet communism - but it is the escalation in antisemitism from the Year 2000, sometimes called ‘the new antisemitism’, that is the most relevant aspect of antisemitism in Britain today. 

And I think that we have to now regard this situation not as some kind of transitory or passing phase, but rather as a trajectory and a reality that we now face and that will now endure for the foreseeable future - which is why we should be so grateful to the work of John Mann MP, Gert Weisskirchen MdB and others who have helped lead the fightback, against all the different forms of antisemitism faced by European Jews in a variety of situations.

These initiatives are vital for the direct protection and morale of Jewish communities, but also benefit society as a whole.

So, to turn to this now enduring situation in Britain. In 2006, the war between Israel and Hizbollah caused that year to be the worst we had ever seen, with just under 600 incidents being reported to CST.

That was eclipsed by what happened two and a half years later during Israel’s last war with Hamas in Gaza in early 2009. In January alone we had almost 300 incidents; and after 6 months we had more incidents than ever before in an entire year. By the end of 2009, CST had recorded 929 incidents.

Over the last two years, incident figures have gradually fallen back to under 600 incidents. Nevertheless, the potential for further violence and threats is very obvious. It is like two inter-linked pressure cookers, one in the Middle East including Iran, and the other here in Europe: they build and build until they are unleashed, each in its own way.

And that pressure in Britain and much of Western Europe is a combination of things. Specifically, there is antisemitic and anti-Israel hatred, including that which is facilitated by social media and the Internet, but also by the unhealthy preoccupation of mainstream media and polticians with the actions of Israel. Then, we have broader societal aspects that also impact, such as the pressures that led to widespread rioting in Britain last summer. 

It is easy to look at the spikes and increases in antisemitism and to be misled into thinking or saying that this is all about Israel, or mainly committed by Muslims, but in Britain that is mistaken.

This is racism, and, like any other type of racism, or political extremism, it draws comfort from the surrounding environment and from what it perceives in that environment. So, when Israel, the Jewish state, is in the news, it is encouraged and emboldened. When Israel is out of the news, it can decline somewhat and return to other themes.

So, last year, with no major Israel related trigger event, we had 586 incidents reported to CST; and of those, 135 used discourse that referred to Nazi Germany, using swastikas and the like. Israel was referenced in 84 incidents last year. Muslims were certainly not the majority of visible perpetrators.

Crucially, we also have the terrorist threat. Yesterday, a terrorism case began in Manchester which may well show how close we came in Britain to something very similar to Toulouse.

We always try to distinguish the hatred of Jews from the hatred of Zionism, and that from the hatred of Israel: but the pattern of antisemitic incidents and the case of terrorists such as Mohamed Merah in Toulouse, show that the linkage between these three phenomena, hating – not criticising, but hating - Jews, Zionism, Israel, is far stronger and far more important in this conversation than are the academic and philosophical distinctions between them.

Moving on, antisemitic discourse in mainstream media and politics is always notoriously difficult to measure. Also, in Britain at least, it is seldom against Jews for being Jews, rather it is a so-called anti-Zionism that has antisemitic impacts, and is based upon old antisemitic conspiracy motifs about Jewish money, and Jewish power; and all the rest of that rubbish.

So, for example, we hear that a Jew should not be a British Ambassador to Israel. Most commonly in the mainstream, we hear that the American pro-Israel or Jewish lobby dictates American foreign policy. Of course, in Britain as elsewhere, people who say such things are quick to say that they condemn antisemitism, but the reality is that their condemnation is usually highly subjective.  

I want to finish by talking about the overall context of British Jewish life.

Of course, when antisemitism makes the headlines, it leaves many Jews feeling afraid and uncomfortable - but that should be balanced against the fact that, especially in London and Manchester, we have thriving Jewish communities where, most of the time, Jews are largely free to lead the lives of their choice. Furthermore, we have confidence in the Police and in politicians, (well most of them) to take antisemitism seriously.

Nevertheless, the situation is also a precarious one. Many Jewish communities are shrinking to the point where synagogues are closing down, leaving smaller communities isolated and vulnerable, especially in times of crisis.

At a leadership and representative level I would add that our main concern is what the future might hold if things continue along the same trajectory that we have seen since the year 2000, whereby overseas tensions keep on impacting here in Britain and elsewhere in Europe.

In particular, I fear that instinctively we may still regard this as all meaning that the problem is somehow an external factor, an alien imposition that can somehow be alleviated: but it isn’t that. Rather, it is far more serious: because contemporary antisemitism is an integral problem, not an external one. And, as I began by saying, our worry is that it will only endure or indeed worsen in the foreseeable future.

Thank you.    

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