Anti-Semitic incidents either soared in Great Britain last year, dipped a bit or dropped significantly — it depends whom you ask.
A report published last week by a Jewish organization said there were 594 incidents, the most since records started being kept in 1984. That represents a 31 percent increase over the prior year, according to the annual report by the Community Security Trust.
That’s in sharp contrast to the London Mayor’s Office, where Lee Jasper, director of Equalities and Policing, reported that anti-Semitic attacks decreased sharply in the past year.
Then the Israel-based Global Forum against Anti-Semitism, chaired by the Foreign Affairs Ministry, reported that anti-Semitic incidents in the United Kingdom had fallen by 3 percent, to 312 in 2006 from 321 the year before.
The Jewish Chronicle, the U.K.’s national weekly newspaper, reported last week that the Community Security Trust “rebuked” Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni for “grossly” underestimating the level of anti-Semitism in the United Kingdom. A letter sent to Livni said the Israeli figures “were wrong” and the reported fall is “a grossly inaccurate portrayal of the situation in the U.K.”
The letter continued: “We are once again left in a situation whereby serious doubts have been cast upon the ability of the U.K. Jewish community to develop a serious relationship based on confidence and trust with the Global Forum.”
The trust’s report centered on six areas: extreme violence; assaults; damage and desecration of Jewish communal property; threats; abusive behavior; and mass produced anti-Semitic literature — the only area not to record a major increase.
The trust, which is involved in matters of anti-Semitism, terrorism, policing and security, used figures of incidents recorded via Jewish organizations as well as people reporting to trust offices and representatives throughout the United Kingdom.
Thirteen people were convicted of offenses relating to anti-Semitic incidents from 2005 and 2006. Other cases from 2006 are awaiting trial.
The government and police are expected to respond in the next few weeks to a parliamentary report on anti-Semitism published in September. The Jewish community has been assured that strong measures to combat anti-Semitism will be put in place.
“Anti-Semitic hate crime levels have doubled in the last 10 years,” said Mark Gardner, the trust’s communications director. “This is unacceptable racism that many Jews had hoped and believed was a thing of the past.”
But Jasper said that according to Metropolitan Police figures, anti-Semitic attacks had dropped by about 25 percent in the past five years. He also said that “racist attacks on black, Asian and Arab people in London are significantly higher than the level of anti-Semitic attacks,” though he offered that “any racist offenses at all are unacceptable.”
Metropolitan Police said its figures were “broadly similar” to the trust’s, and that police statistics were affected by underreporting.
Among the anti-Semitic incidents recorded in the trust report, 108 were called assaults, described as a physical attack that did not pose a threat to one’s life. That was a 37 percent increase from 2005, which had 82 assaults.
The 2006 incidents included an attack on a Jewish teenager by 15 youths who shouted anti-Semitic taunts before knocking him to the ground, breaking the boy’s collarbone.
The trust report showed that attacks escalated during Israel’s war with Lebanon last summer. During the 34 days of fighting, 134 anti-Semitic incidents took place, with 54 including specific reference to the war.
That rise helped account for the fact that 59 percent of anti-Semitic incidents occurred during the second half of 2006.
“In Britain, we should be able to discuss Israeli and Middle East issues in a rational, intelligent way,” said Gavin Gross, a New Yorker living in the United Kingdom. “Instead, Israel is routinely the target of the most extreme forms of hatred and demonization, and as the [trust] has documented, anti-Jewish attacks in Britain rise in conjunction with trigger events such as last summer’s war between Israel and Hezbollah.
If British media and other institutions, such as universities, were more balanced in their coverage of Israel, it would help reduce the number of attacks on Jews and Jewish institutions, Gross said.
Marc Cave, founder and chief executive of a major advertising firm, pinned some blame for any rise in anti-Semitism on Jews themselves.
“We allow the confusion of anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism to happen in the minds of the public because we never… talk to the public,” Cave said.
“We see other ethnic minorities standing up for themselves and standing proud. We can learn from this,” he said. “We give so much to British society — gratefully and happily — that we can well afford to stand up and assert our right not to have our synagogues attacked, our cemeteries desecrated or Jews to be assaulted in the street just because someone doesn’t like Israel’s policies.”
Noting the failure to speak up, Cave asked, “Isn’t that how the Jews of Berlin behaved in the early 1930′s?”
There were four incidents of extreme violence, described as an attack that could cause loss of life, compared to two in 2005. This included the stabbing of a “visibly Jewish” man in an unprovoked attack on a London street and an assault on two Jewish students by two Middle Eastern men in a bar who shouted anti-Semitic rhetoric. One of the students was struck over the head with a bottle, leaving him semi-conscious.
Victims were mostly individuals and organizations chosen at random. There were 79 incidents of Jewish events being targeted.
Congregants on their way to or from prayer were targets in 50 incidents. In one, a man walking to synagogue with his two young sons was attacked by a white man shouting “You f***king Jew.” He was punched and kicked, suffering a broken leg. Twenty-five Jewish schoolchildren on their way to or from school were victimized.
Seventy incidents of “damage and desecration” of Jewish communal property were reported, a rise of 46 percent, the first time in three years the number has grown. This includes the daubing of anti-Semitic slogans or symbols, including stickers and posters, on Jewish property, or damage to Jewish property where it has been specifically targeted because of its Jewish connection.
The report noted some incidents of anti-Semitism on college campuses, including graffiti at the Leeds University library on three occasions. Drawings of swastikas and Jews with long noses were daubed on desks there.
Stuart Stanton, a member of the Wimbledon Jewish community in south London, was concerned by the situation at universities, where he said “there are rampant extreme Muslim and left-wing organizations that are anti-Jewish/anti-Israel.”
The way to combat this, he said, is working together with groups — Muslims, for example — and ensuring that young Jews are instilled with Jewish pride, are fully educated in their culture and history and can rebut the anti-Semitic comments with informed opinion.
Gideon Polinsky, a doctor who lives in a small Manchester suburb, said the trust report serves as a reminder that Jews face a threat “not only from the far right but also the far left as their anti-Israel rhetoric is dogmatic and unyielding, and fuels hatred and misunderstanding of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
Polinsky maintained that while the far right and far left state correctly that criticism of Israel is not necessarily anti-Semitic, “their language and sinister motivations, together with the campaigns and publications they publish, in my opinion leads to anti-Semitism and hatred.”