LONDON (Jul. 11)
Jewish leaders have vowed they will work to combat any rise in racial tensions following the London bombings amid fears that the attacks may lead to increased anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. “Certainly when there have been attacks in the past, we’ve seen a spike in anti-Semitism and vandalism,” said Mike Whine of the Community Security Trust, the body that monitors threats to British Jewry. “We’ve already seen some extremist Web sites blaming Jews for the bombing, and we would be foolish to ignore it.”
There are similar concerns over dangers to the United Kingdom’s Muslim community, with arson attacks at several mosques around the country over the weekend and Muslim organizations reporting quantities of hate mail.
Imam Abduljalil Sajid, a prominent U.K. interfaith activist, said he had seen Muslims being spat at in the street hours after the bombings. Community leaders have advised Muslims “to keep a low-profile,” he added.
The seriousness with which the British government regards the threat of racial violence could be judged by its rapid reaction. The morning after the July 7 bombings, which claimed the lives of at least 49 people and injured some 700, the Orthodox chief rabbi, Sir Jonathan Sacks, was among religious leaders called to the Home Office, the government body responsible for domestic security policy, for an emergency meeting to discuss a joint response.
On Monday, Sacks joined Sheikh Zaki Badawi and church representatives to pledge they would “strengthen those things we hold in common and to resist all that seeks to drive us apart.”
A spokesman for the Board of Deputies, the representative body of U.K. Jewry, said that it recognized the concerns and would take up the challenge to “develop tighter bonds and increase dialogue.”
Ironically, the terror attacks came only days after a new report released by Alif-Aleph, a Jewish-Muslim dialogue group, highlighted positive contacts between the two communities throughout the U.K..
The study, which was welcomed by Prime Minister Tony Blair, revealed that both religious groups increasingly understand the benefits of addressing Islamophobia and anti-Semitism together, with informal, grass-roots exchanges leading to significant and lasting relations, based on mutual trust.
Now is the time to build on those initiatives, said Richard Stone, Alif-Aleph’s Jewish co-chair, who expects an imminent rise in Islamophobia.
“If we know any Muslims or work with any Muslims, we have a responsibility to ask if they are all right,” he said. “Because we know what it’s like to be a persecuted minority, we should reach out to others.”
“We have to support each other,” Imam Sajid agreed. “Wherever there is anti-Semitism, Islamophobia is not far behind. And where there is Islamophobia, anti-Semitism is not far behind. The public perception is about ‘otherness’ — that puts Jews and Muslims together.”
But however strong the willingness may be to work together to combat racial hatred, Whine warns that there are still fundamental challenges to overcome.
“The Muslim community needs to issue a universal condemnation of violence,” he adds. “They can’t say, ‘We condemn violence in the U.K. but not in Iraq or Israel.’ “
Jewish leaders fear the London bombings may also spur a wider anti-Israel backlash that could affect U.K. government policy.
In a BBC Radio interview on Saturday, Blair announced that it was vital to address what he called the deep-seated causes of terrorism, pointing to the situation in the Middle East as the key to understanding the roots of the violence.
“Ultimately what we now know, if we didn’t before, is that where there is extremism, fanaticism or acute and appalling forms of poverty in one continent, the consequences no longer stay fixed in that continent,” he said.
“We need to create the circumstances in which some of the critical issues in the Middle East are dealt with and sorted out and where people can see out there in the Middle East that there is a perfectly good path to democracy if people want to take it,” Blair added.
Though Blair didn’t mention the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by name, many concluded that was his intended focus. His comments were welcomed by pro-Arab lobbyists.
“Once things calm down, there has to be a debate about how British policies relate to the rest of the world,” said Chris Doyle, director of the Council for Arab-British Understanding, a London-based lobby. “I agree that resolving this conflict will help.”
But any connection to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was immediately refuted by Israel, with Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert insisting that the London attacks, like past terrorist attacks in America and Spain, were part of a “comprehensive terrorist war against the Western civilization.”
While expressing sympathy and solidarity, Israeli officials have been at pains to distance themselves diplomatically from the London attacks. That has been a wise decision, analysts say.
“It’s time for Israel to sit quietly,” said Yossi Mekelberg, an associate fellow in the Middle East program at the London-based Royal Institute of International Affairs, a think tank also known as Chatham House. “If Israel connects Palestinian terror to global terror, they fall into the argument that one of the ways to eradicate the root causes of terror is to solve the Israel-Palestine issue.”
But that idea has already gained wide currency in the U.K., mostly due to the efforts of campaigners against the Iraq conflict who adopted “Freedom for Palestine”as one of their rallying cries, deriding Blair as President Bush’s “poodle” in the war on terror.
The situation in the Middle East was soon being cited by newspaper pundits as the reason that terror hit London.
“The real solution lies in immediately ending the occupation of Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine,” claimed commentator Tariq Ali in the left-wing Guardian, insisting that “the principal cause of this violence is the violence being inflicted on the people of the Muslim world. And unless this is recognized, the horrors will continue.”
This phenomenon is something that the Jewish community — which has a long experience of anti-Israel sentiment blending into anti-Semitism — fears will impact them in coming months.
“People blame the Jews, whatever the circumstances,” Whine said.