15 February 2024

Institutional timidity is allowing antisemitism on our streets


A video showing a Jewish man being advised by police to hide his Star of David ‘for his own safety’ while watching a pro-Palestine parade in Edinburgh went viral on social media yesterday.  While many people criticised the officer concerned, I think he was acting in good faith. That is to say he perceived a high likelihood in 2024 that the mere sight of a Jew acting completely lawfully on a British street displaying a symbol of his faith would be attacked because of his identity – and terrifyingly, that the police were not going to be able to protect him. 

If you can’t believe this is happening here and now, then you’re going to have to brace yourself for these statistics. The Community Security Trust, a charity set up to protect Britain’s Jews from antisemitism and related threats published its antisemitic incidents report for 2023 today. It says antisemitic hatred in this country – racism, to be straightforward – had an annual increase of a staggering 147%. Of the 4,103 instances of anti-Jewish hate reported to it over the year, two thirds of the incidents happened after the October 7 Hamas atrocity. It is important to emphasise this point – British Jews were being verbally and physically abused in their streets, homes and schools after a murderous and sadistic pogrom that had already traumatised one of Britain’s smallest minorities. 

How does this grotesque treatment manifest itself? Many of the hate crimes seem to take place around synagogues – another outward expression of the Jewish faith that requires round the clock security. In one instance after October 7, the BBC reported a Jewish person walking to a synagogue in London on Sunday morning who was called a ‘dirty Jew’ by a stranger, who said ‘no wonder you’re all getting raped’. In another repeated instance, posters of Hamas hostages, including babies and children, have been torn down and defaced with swastikas and obscene graffiti. Those challenging the people who did this have been menaced and abused. Jewish cemeteries have also been defiled. Just this week, the Soho Theatre was forced to apologise to a Jewish customer after he was hounded out of a ‘comedy’ event they hosted for refusing to applaud a Palestinian flag. 

The conflict in Gaza is acknowledged by those who wish to explain or excuse this racism. Bourgeois progressives call this ‘contextualisation.’ But no amount of sophistry can disguise these appalling statistics or the at best diffident response of those to the left to them. You have the distinct impression that antisemitism is only a provisional member of the racism family. There’s always a caveat, isn’t there? It’s as if Jew hatred was subtly different from all the other ‘isms’ that receive saturation-level attention from such groups. 

While most of those protesting the awful plight of Palestinians in what’s left of Gaza will not hold antisemitic beliefs, the conflation of British Jews with responsibility for what the Netanyahu government is doing there is an inevitable consequence of willful ignorance. That Britain’s Jewish community contains a diversity of views on the conflict in a foreign country makes no odds to antisemitic organisations like the recently proscribed Hizb ut-Tahrir. They have radicalised the same people who now spit on Jews in the street. And it must be said that the failure of police to robustly tackle the propagation of hate in the initial Palestine marches plays a role here too. Where did the perpetrators in the CST statistics get their bravado from? Institutional timidity in the face of the oldest hatred.

In the cockpit of antisemitism, London, a convoy of cars raced through a Jewish neighbourhood in North London in May 2021. In the viral video of the incident, people in those cars, draped with Palestinian flags, were head to scream ‘F*** the Jews, rape their daughters’. The Crown Prosecution Service declined to prosecute two arrested suspects. The point here is that this sort of unpunished impunity never rests. The events of October 7 are simply the latest, biggest stick to beat the Jews with.  

The conflict in Gaza is not simply making British Jews feel unsafe and unable to go walk the streets displaying symbols of their identity and faith. It is also poisoning our local politics. In both parties this week, representatives have been suspended or expelled for expressing or endorsing antisemitic views. The Rochdale by-election has been turned into a Gaza policy referendum circus by Labour standing by then abandoning their candidate too late to replace him on the ballot paper and trying to call this ‘robust’ action on antisemitism. 

People must be able to peacefully and forcefully protest against Israeli actions in Palestine within the law. But the CST statistics show what happens when this elides into an atmosphere where Britain’s Jews are made complicit in the conflict. Racism with a gleefully self-righteous core. And people told not to wear a Star of David on the streets of this country to stop them being set upon by a mob. In 2024. Not 1933. For shame. 

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Professor Ian Acheson is Senior Advisor to the Counter Extremism Project.

Columns are the author's own opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of CapX.