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Around the Jewish World in Britain, Jews Feel Squeezed by Terror Threat, Muslim Reaction

July 26, 2005
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Amid tightened security following the latest wave of attempted suicide bombings in London, British Jews are troubled both by the threat of terror and the ambivalent reaction of the United Kingdom’s Muslim leadership. The capital was still burying its dead from four coordinated suicide attacks July 7 that killed more than 50 people — including Jewish victims Miriam Hyman, 31; Susan Levy, 53; and Anat Rosenberg, 37 — when it was hit by further attempts to bring murder and mayhem to London on July 21.

This time the bombs failed to detonate fully, and there was only one reported injury. With the four suspects still at large, however, fear and suspicion have swept a city still reeling from the July 7 atrocities.

The Community Security Trust, the body that monitors threats to the U.K. Jewish community, is ensuring that staff and volunteers maintain a high level of visibility around synagogues, schools and other community buildings.

Having stepped up its state of alert after the July 7 attacks, the trust continues to urge Anglo Jewry to remain “extremely vigilant” in the wake of the latest incidents, fearing both terrorism and a spike in anti-Semitism.

The alarm has yet to reach its highest level, the trust spokesman Mike Whine said, because of the lack of any specific intelligence of a direct threat to the Jewish community.

But the government is taking the possibility very seriously. Community leaders report almost daily meetings among religious figures, the Home Office, the government body responsible for domestic security policy, and the police, with briefings on the security situation issued several times a day.

It’s too early to tell whether the bombings already have caused an upsurge of attacks against Jews, Whine noted.

“We were anyway suffering high levels of anti-Semitism, so it’s difficult to say whether it has increased as a consequence,” he said. “We’ve certainly seen some very inflammatory language on extremist Web sites blaming the bombing on Jews or on Israel.”

The British Jewish community has been disturbed not only by the latest round of bombings but also by the response of the U.K.’s Muslim leadership to the growing threat of fanaticism in its midst.

The extent of the radicalization was highlighted by the news that nearly a quarter of U.K. Muslims have some sympathy with the feelings and motives of those who carried out the July 7 bombings, according to a poll sponsored by Britain’s Daily Telegraph newspaper.

The survey also revealed that 18 percent of British Muslims feel little loyalty towards Britain, and 32 percent believe that “Western society is decadent and immoral and that Muslims should seek to bring it to an end.”

Jewish leaders are concerned that U.K. Muslim leaders are failing to face up to this phenomenon and are instead sending out a dangerous message by consistently drawing a distinction between suicide bombings in the United Kingdom, which they condemn, and terrorist attacks in Israel, which they excuse.

“They see no inconsistency in that, and it’s troubling,” Whine said.

The Muslim Council of Britain, an umbrella group, emphatically condemned the London bombings, but it has always been circumspect when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“It is very important to remember the context,” the council spokesman Inayat Bunglawala said. “Three thousand British Muslims haven’t been killed by occupying troops. We are not routinely invaded. Our leadership is not being assassinated. What the Palestinian people are going through leads them to desperation.”

Another prominent Muslim figure, Azzam Tamimi of the Muslim Association of Britain, also argued that Palestinian suicide bombings are essentially different from terror attacks in Europe.

“The bombings were wrong in London, were wrong in Madrid, but it is a completely different situation in Palestine,” said Tamimi, speaking on the BBC. “Thousands of ordinary Palestinians are rotting in refugee camps and reacting to oppression.”

Rabbi Barry Marcus of the Central Synagogue on Great Portland Street, who was an eyewitness to the July 7 double-decker bus bombing that killed 14 people, describes a sense of “anger and dismay” among his congregation at such public statements.

“You can’t condemn suicide bombing in London and condone it in Israel,” he said. “They are trying to divert people from the real issues. Trying to find excuses for murder is abhorrent. The pity is that the Muslim community now has an opportunity to say, ‘We have a problem and we need to deal with it.’ “

Rabbi Alex Chapper, of Ilford Federation Synagogue in Essex, himself the victim of an anti-Semitic attack by Pakistani youths two weeks ago, says that while he believes moderate Muslims genuinely want calm, their leadership is failing to take on the task of rooting out extremism.

When Chapper was physically and verbally abused along with other congregants on their way back from shul, local Muslims — themselves the victims of rising hate crime after July 7 — visited him in solidarity.

But on a wider level, Muslim leaders have not addressed the problem of a younger generation increasingly alienated from what some claim are Islam’s true, moderate values and who are ready to cause trouble, Chapper charges.

“I don’t think they’re doing enough,” Chapper said. “They have to take responsibility. If you don’t stamp out extremist talk, there is only a small step between talk and action.”

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