Events in the Middle East inspired a record number of anti-Semitic hate incidents in Britain in 2014, according to a report released on Thursday by the Community Security Trust (CST), a charity that monitors anti-Semitism and provides security for British Jews.
The CST documented a record-breaking 1,168 anti-Semitic incidents across the country last year: more than double the 535 incidents reported in 2013. This marks the highest number counted by the CST since the organization began its tally in 1984.
It also reverses a trend of falling anti-Semitic incident totals since 2009.
The CST links a rise in demonstrable anti-Semitism in Britain to last summer's bloody conflict between Israel and Gaza. In July 2014, when fighting between the two territories kicked off, the CST recorded its highest-ever monthly total of 314 anti-Semitic incidents.
Eighty one of the year's incidents were classified as "violent," an increase of 17 percent from 2013.
In the one reported incident of "extreme violence," the victim was called a "Jewish cunt," and then smacked with a baseball bat.
A CST spokesperson told VICE News that the charity had recently held a conference call with Britain's Cross-Government Working Group on Anti-Semitism, which includes the Home Office. He said that CST would soon be meeting with Education Secretary Nicky Morgan to discuss security at Jewish schools.
In a statement, UK Home Secretary Theresa May called the report "deeply concerning," as well as vowing "to tackle anti-Semitism" and work with Britain's estimated Jewish population of just over 290,000.
Assistant Chief Constable Garry Shewan, Britain's National Police Lead for Jewish Communities, raised the specter of last month's terror assaults in France, warning: "The recent events in Paris are a reminder to all of us here in the UK that if we tolerate people being targeted because of their race, religion or even how they look the consequences are catastrophic."
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The report — which has a cover featuring a caricature of a hooked-nose Jewish man with pointed teeth and beady eyes — comes at a delicate moment, just weeks after an armed assailant attacked a kosher supermarket in Porte de Vincennes, Paris, killing four hostages.
Now, British broadsheets are replete with near daily reports on British Jews who judge themselves to be in peril. There are boundless accounts of Jewish students taking drills for terrorist attacks, expanded Jewish community patrols, ramped-up security at synagogues, and Home Office orders for new police measures. Last month, the Booker Prize-winning author Howard Jacobson told the Guardian that "any who Jew is not frightened is mad."
But there are also calls for calm — and pleas to avoid undue hysteria.
Of the incidents reported to the CST, 884 involved "abusive behavior" — including attacks on social media, hate-mail, threats, and anti-Semitic graffiti — 81 involved the damage and desecration of Jewish property, 69 targeted synagogues, and 66 incidents targeted Jewish schools, schoolchildren, or teachers.
In August 2014, a 12-year-old boy in Edinburgh sprayed deodorant on a Jewish girl at his school, saying, "Gas the Jews." The same month, a Sainsbury's grocery store in London removed all kosher food from its shelves, in response to anti-Israel protesters who had threatened to attack the shop otherwise.
The most common incident reported to the CST involved "verbal abuse randomly directed at visibly Jewish people in public."
MT — CST (@CST_UK)February 5, 2015
An "anti-Semitic incident," according to the CST's definition, is "any malicious act aimed at Jewish people, organizations or property, which shows evidence of anti-Semitic motivation, language or targeting."
Some of the incidents referred to in the report come from police — but most were reported directly to the charity. The figures, then, are not official police stats. But the London Metropolitan Police, in a statement provided to VICE News, confirmed that the CST's 2014 tally "broadly reflects the increase in anti-Semitic offences reported to the Met during the same period."
"Following recent events, we know that our Jewish communities are feeling anxious," said the police statement.
The CST acknowledges that the increase in incidents — three quarters of which took place in the Greater London and Greater Manchester regions — reflects, at least in part, "an increase in the willingness of Jewish people to report anti-Semitic incidents, due to increased concern about anti-Semitism."
Another 498 additional incidents were reported to the CST, but they were not deemed to be anti-Semitic and were discounted from the charity's figures. But the charity believes that the actual number of anti-Semitic incidents is much higher than what was reported.
According to the CST, overseas conflicts often act as "trigger events," which inspire "spikes" in UK-based anti-Semitism. Previous spikes occurred in 2009, during another conflict between Israel and Gaza, and 2006, during a war between Israel and Lebanon.
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In January, Home Secretary Theresa May promised beefed-up police patrols of Jewish areas in Britain. "I never thought I would see the day when members of the Jewish community in the United Kingdom would say they were fearful of remaining here," said May, at a ceremony to commemorate Jewish victims of the Paris attacks, where she held a placard reading "Je suis Juif" — "I am Jewish."
Around that time, Mark Rowley, Britain's national police lead for counter-terrorism, said: "The global picture of terrorist activity does give us heightened concern about the risk to the Jewish community in the UK."
Yet Jonathan Sacerdoti, of the UK Campaign Against Antisemitism (CAA), told VICE News that Jewish people in Britain had started to fear for their safety long before events in Paris.
Indeed, back in September, the Met advised Jewish communities "to be security conscious when visiting communal venues ahead of the first High Holy Day." Last year, a poll by the Institute for Jewish Policy Research showed that nearly 70 percent of British Jews felt that anti-Semitism has increased over the previous five years.
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But Sacerdoti said that, "Paris was a useful, so to speak, moment: a pivot moment for the non-Jewish community," for whom European anti-Semitism was starkly brought to light.
More recent events have whipped up further panic. In January, Rabbi Menachem Margolin, director general of the Rabbinical Centre of Europe, told VICE News that members of the Jewish community should be able to "obtain guns through the authorities," for community self-protection.
That same month, a YouGov survey for CAA found that 45 percent of British adults agree with at least one anti-Semitic statement. For example, according to this survey, 25 percent of adults believe that "Jews chase money more than other British people."
Last week, digital posters made the rounds on social media advertising a March demonstration in the London neighborhood of Stamford Hill — home to a large ultra-Orthodox Jewish population — against what its organizer called "the complete Jewification of Europe." The Met is reportedly considering whether or not to permit the demonstration.
"It's not a 'let's leave now' moment," said CAA's Sacerdoti. "But it's a sense of there being something that is growing — that maybe our children or grandchildren might not find this the most hospitable place."
He said that Jewish fear could not measured "numerically," but was in part "intangible… I guess we can't avoid the elephant in the room. Jews have been plugged into this feeling for the last 70 years, at least."
But other statistics suggest a gap between perceived fear and bona fide security threats.
Last year's Pew Global Attitudes survey, for instance, showed that only 7 percent of Brits feel unfavorably towards Jews — much less than the figure for Greece (47 percent) and Italy (24 percent). This number has remained fairly static over the last decade and, according to these figures, makes Britain one of the world's least anti-Semitic countries.
Meanwhile, 83 percent of Brits had an actively favorable attitude towards Jews, compared to the 64 percent who had a favorable view of Muslims.
And some of the more eye-catching polls on anti-Semitism, released in recent months, have been less than scientific. One figure that got a great deal of press attention came from the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism, which found that 58 percent of British Jews "believe Jews may have no long-term future in Europe." But the poll came from a survey published on the websites, newsletters and social media channels of specific Jewish community groups, and thus captured only a very narrow and self-selecting swath of Britain's Jewish population.
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In addition to monitoring anti-Semitism, the CST provides security and training for Jewish sites cross Britain, including schools, synagogues, and community centers.
A CST spokesperson told VICE News that the charity meets with the Home Office or local government "certainly every week and possibly more frequently."
The CST administers around £2.3 million of government money each year, to fund private security guards at Jewish schools. Until last year, CST also received funding under the Ministry of Justice's Victims' Fund, to work with victims of hate crime. Otherwise, its funding comes from voluntary donations.
The charity has been accorded "Third Party Reporting" status by several police organizations, which allows the charity to act an intermediary between victims of anti-Semitism and the police.
The CST also has "incident sharing" programs with three police forces: the London Met, Greater Manchester Police, and Nottingham Police. According to these schemes, the first of which began in 2011, anonymous hate crime data is shared between the CST and police forces. The reports are anonymous to comply with data protection regulation.
A CST spokesperson said that CST and police representatives share reports of anti-Semitic incidents, and then go through them one-by-one, to ensure that episodes are not double-counted.
But this tight rapport has not escaped scrutiny. In 2011, a column by British historian Geoffrey Alderman in the Jewish Chronicle argued that the CST does not have the right "to represent itself as being a representative body," and further argued that the British state should not be outsourcing the administration of funds for Jewish security, since physical protection of citizens is a state obligation.
In an interview with VICE News, a spokesperson for the Greater Manchester Police said that his force was engaged in similar incident-sharing schemes with other local organizations — but that he could not name any of those groups off the top of his head. He added: "You can't compare the way that the information is shared with the CST and the way it is shared with other organizations..." Asked for further clarification, the spokesperson charged, "I feel like you are reporting a critical report" and cut off the interview.
On Monday, Britain's All-Party Parliamentary Group Against Anti-Semitism will launch a new report on anti-Semitism, a group spokesperson told VICE News. The report will include including "an action plan for government."
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