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Skyrocketing antisemitism in Britain is ‘perhaps no surprise’

“We deserve to feel secure on the streets of our country," says Marie van der Zyl, president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews.

Anti-Israel protesters in London on Oct. 14, 2023. Credit: Koca Vehbi/Shutterstock.
Anti-Israel protesters in London on Oct. 14, 2023. Credit: Koca Vehbi/Shutterstock.

In a speech before the British Parliament on Tuesday, King Charles vowed that Britain would address “the barbaric acts of terrorism against the people of Israel, facilitating humanitarian support into Gaza and supporting the cause of peace and stability in the Middle East.”

He also stressed that the country was “committed” to tackling antisemitism, amid a major uptick in anti-Jewish attacks and sentiment as the fighting between Israel and Hamas in the wake of the Palestinian terror group’s Oct. 7 massacre enters its second month.

As of Nov. 3, the London Metropolitan Police had arrested 133 people for crimes related to the Israel-Hamas war. Since Oct. 7, the Counter Terrorism Internet Referral Unit has received more than 1,800 public referrals about potential online terrorist or criminal activity relating to the conflict.

Police said hate crimes against Jewish communities in London were exponentially higher than at this time last year, having risen fourteen-fold. The Met recorded 408 alleged antisemitic offenses in October, compared with 28 in the same period in 2022.

In response, the Board of Deputies of British Jews (BoD) held meetings with senior government ministers, including Michael Gove and Robert Jenrick, who attended pro-Israel demonstrations.

BoD President Marie van der Zyl told JNS that the rise of antisemitism in the United Kingdom is nothing new. “It is perhaps no surprise that the Jewish community has experienced such a huge rise in hate attacks since the terrorist attacks” of Oct. 7, she said.

“We deserve to feel secure on the streets of our country. And while terrorism is openly and publicly espoused with seeming impunity, we cannot be confident of the safety of Jewish children in schools, students on campus and anyone else who can be easily identified as Jewish,” she added. 

The BoD has responded to the spike in antisemitism by holding a series of demonstrations, one opposite Downing Street to honor the victims of the Hamas massacre, and another in Trafalgar Square attended by 15,000 people demanding the release of over 240 hostages being held in Gaza.

London banned Hamas’s “military wing” in 2001, and in November 2021 designated the group in its entirety as a terrorist organization.

Last week, two British women, who were arrested for holding signs depicting Hamas paragliders at a protest at Whitehall, London on Oct. 14, were charged with violating the country’s Terrorism Act. If found guilty, Heba Alhayek, 29, and Pauline Ankunda, 26, face up to six months in prison for supporting Hamas, proscribed by the United Kingdom as a terrorist group.

Hamas terrorists used paragliders to infiltrate southern Israel on Oct. 7, after which they slaughtered 1,400 people and wounded 5,000 others.

‘We are exceptionally worried about it’

As part of a separate investigation, British police have asked civilians for help in identifying a man seen waving a banner that read “I fully support Hamas” at a protest on Bond Street on Oct. 21, and three women displaying signs featuring paragliders. 

Phil Rosenberg, who represents Brondesbury Park Synagogue on the BoD, told JNS: “There is clearly reason for concern. Seeing people celebrating the massacre in London neighborhoods, calling for ‘jihad’ or ‘intifada’ at demonstrations and viciously tearing down posters of the hostages kidnapped by Hamas is sickening.” 

The Community Security Trust (CST), an organization that works to protect British Jews from antisemitism and related threats, reported that in the 28 days between Oct. 7 and Nov. 3, it recorded more than 1,000 antisemitic incidents across the United Kingdom. These included 47 assaults and 67 instances of damage to or desecration of Jewish property.

Among the incidents in London were a kosher grocery shop receiving bomb threats; the occupant of a vehicle driving past a Jewish school shouting “F**k the Jews!”; and bacon being thrown over the gate of another Jewish school, along with a note reading, “Die U Jewish.” Additionally, the Wiener Holocaust Library was defaced with graffiti reading “Gaza.”

The Community Security Trust said the antisemitic attacks were the highest ever total reported to CST across a 28-day period since 1984, when the group became active.

British Chief Rabbi Sir Ephraim Mirvis stated: “Antisemitism is a growing problem, and we are exceptionally worried about it. It reflects what’s happening globally, and the anti-Zionist element is part of it.”

Justice Secretary Alex Chalk, backed by British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, called for postponing pro-Hamas rallies planned on Remembrance Day, Nov. 11, for fear of violence and public property defacement.

Despite the growing risk, Rosenberg told JNS that the community has seen “strong support from the Conservative government and the Labour leadership, the Royal Family and the Archbishop of Canterbury.”

On Sunday, former British prime minister Boris Johnson paid a surprise solidarity visit to Israel together with former Australian prime minister Scott Morrison.

Johnson met with Israeli-British soldiers, one of whom asked what was being done in order to protect Jewish families back home. “I absolutely condemn the genocidal slogans being used in the streets of the West and I think the London police have a job to do making sure that incitement is punished to the full extent of the law,” said Johnson.

On Oct. 19, Sunak met in Israel with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. Sunak said his government “supported Israel’s right to defend itself in line with international law, to go after Hamas, to take back hostages, deter further incursions and strengthen your security for the long-term.”

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