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21 February 2024

British anti-Semitism is spiking dramatically

More instances of anti-Jewish hate were recorded in 2023 than in any other year since 1984.

By Hannah Barnes

It is a bad time to be a British Jew. Many are, rightfully, frightened. They are hiding visible signs of their faith: boys and men removing kippot from their heads; families taking down mezuzahs from their front doors. Many, like me, feel an overwhelming sense of disbelief and horror. How can so many people in the country we were born in hate us so much, for simply being Jewish? For that’s what anti-Semitism is: Jew hatred.

For many years now, it has been routine to have a police presence outside synagogues – a sad but inevitable fact of life for the Jewish community. There hasn’t been so much hatred of the Jewish people in Britain in at least a generation.

A report published by the Community Security Trust (CST) charity on 15 February put numbers behind the anecdotes of anti-Semitism that we hear about daily. The CST recorded 4,103 anti-Semitic incidents in 2023, the highest since it began reporting in 1984, and almost twice the previous record of 2,261 in 2021.

The total number is shocking enough, but two thirds (2,699) were reported on or after 7 October 2023 – the day when Hamas terrorists murdered and mutilated more than 1,200 Jews in attacks on southern Israel. There were 416 incidents reported in the following week alone. Figures from the police paint a similar picture. The Met recorded an almost 15-fold increase in incidents between 1 and 18 October, compared with the same period in 2022.

While the UK has witnessed spikes in anti-Semitic incidents during previous moments of Israeli military action in Gaza – most notably in 2021, 2014 and 2009 – this was different. “Anti-Semitic incidents skyrocketed in the immediate aftermath of a terror attack,” the CST explained, “before Israel had coordinated any substantive military response.” As the novelist Howard Jacobson put it on BBC Newsnight after the report came out, “It feels like bloodlust. It feels like the spectacle of Jews attacked, murdered and maimed has excited something in people.”

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I do not believe that adult British Jews are responsible for the actions of the Israeli government and military. Many, as I do, abhor the killing of thousands of innocent Palestinian children and the devastation of Gaza: a tragedy is unfolding before our eyes. It is even more absurd to suggest that British Jewish children are accountable. And yet, per the CST, anti-Semitic incidents targeting schoolchildren more than tripled last year (and reached record highs in British universities). This wasn’t confined to pupils attending Jewish schools, either. One hundred and twenty-seven incidents involved Jewish schoolchildren or staff at non-faith schools. I have heard of cases where eight-year-olds have been bullied and taunted with “Hamas will win”, and of parents who have been advised against taking Jewish symbols into school to teach other children about festivals.

Most disturbing of all is that some of the perpetrators of this hatred are children themselves. Of the incidents in which the offender’s approximate age was provided to the CST, 18 per cent exclusively involved those under the age of 18.

What is going on? I did not know things could be this bad. Events of the last fortnight have shown that anti-Semitism is everywhere. It’s the only acceptable form of racism left in our society. As my colleague Anoosh writes on page 18, the Rochdale by-election provides the perfect case study of how events in Israel and Gaza have come to shape our national politics. The Labour Party has had to abandon support for its chosen candidate, Azhar Ali, after he was recorded in a meeting saying that the Israeli government deliberately allowed the Hamas attacks of 7 October to happen, to give them a “green light to do whatever they bloody want”. During the meeting no one in attendance – reported by Jewish News and others to be 14 to 20 people – seems to have challenged what Ali said.

While Labour has grabbed the headlines, minor elected officials for both the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have also been found to have made anti-Jewish comments.

We’ve seen a similar pattern in the world of entertainment. The BBC has been damaged by the revelation that a contestant on The Apprentice, Asif Munaf, had made several anti-Semitic posts on social media after filming on the new series had been completed, but before it was aired. Zionists are “a godless, satanic cult”, he wrote. The BBC’s response was woefully inadequate. After learning of the posts, it sent Munaf on diversity training to help him “understand why his posts may cause offence”. Yet it went on to record extra material with him after these posts were made for the spin-off show You’re Fired. He was eventually edited out after further outcry from Jewish groups and staff.

In the arts too, a theatre full of people in central London seemingly did not think it was too awful that a Jewish Israeli audience member was reportedly told to “get the f**k out of here” by the comedian Paul Currie during a comedy gig, for refusing to stand up and applaud the Palestinian flag. While a small number of other Jewish theatregoers also left, there have been no reports of a mass walkout.

These are just a small number of incidents that have occurred in recent weeks. It is hard to reach any conclusion other than anti-Semitism just isn’t seen as serious by swathes of British society. Or, as the comedian David Baddiel has put it, Jews don’t count. That is dangerous for Jews, and shameful for society.

[See also: Britain’s anti-Semitism problem]

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This article appears in the 21 Feb 2024 issue of the New Statesman, Fractured Nation