LONDON – Reaction in Britain to Israel’s war against Hamas last summer contributed to a record number of anti-Semitic incidents in the UK during 2014.
A total of 1,168 incidents were recorded during the year, according to the Community Security Trust’s annual report issued for publication on Thursday, widely regarded as the “official” and most reliable source of such statistics.
That was more than double the number for 2013 and the highest seen since the CST started keeping statistics in 1984. A further 500 reports were received by the organization, monitors anti-Semitism and provides security for the Jewish community, but they were not deemed to be anti-Semitic nature and thus excluded.
Describing the Gaza war as the “single biggest factor” in the record statistics, which acted as a “trigger event,” the CST noted that the July total of 314 incidents was its highest ever monthly figure, and that August’s 224 was the organizations third highest monthly total. Of the 542 total for July and August, 48 percent made specific reference to events in Israel and the Gaza Strip. The same period in 2013 saw just 87 cases registered.
CST also registered an increasing trend of anti-Semitic incidents during the year, with a 38% increase during the first six months which led to the conclusion that even without the Gaza conflict adding to the yearly total, 2014 would have shown an increase over 2013.
There was also a worrying trend in the nature of the incidents: 81 were listed as “violent assaults,” up 17% on the previous year, and one was classified as a case of “extreme violence,” i.e. grievous bodily harm or a threat to life.
Almost 150,000 of the estimated 286,000 UK Jews live in and around London; the area’s community saw a 137% increase in cases to 583, while the second-largest Jewish center, Manchester, had a 79% rise to 309 incidents. Three-quarters of the incidents occurred in the two largest concentrations of Jews, but, the CST noted, anti-Semitic incidents were also recorded in 89 other locations around the UK.
Sixty-nine incidents targeted synagogues, and 41 involved congregants either on their way to or from synagogue, increases over the 2013 figures of 31 and 26, respectively. A further 213 incidents involved Jewish communal organizations, as compared with 59 such incidents in the previous year.
In a further breakdown of the statistics, 81 incidents involved damage or desecration of Jewish property, 92 were in the form of direct anti-Semitic attacks, 30 cases of mass-mailed leaflets were recorded, while a record of 884 incidents were cataloged as “abusive behavior” which included verbal abuse, anti-Semitic graffiti, one-off instances of hate mail, and the more recent trend of anti-Semitic abuse using social media.
This was reflected in the 233 known cases of social media abuse in 2014, 20% of the total, compared with 88 instances recorded in the previous year. The CST has emphasized that it is committed to working with social media companies in seeking ways to eliminate the abuse and that the figures may not be showing the full extent of the problem.
The most common incident, verbal abuse of visibly Jewish people in public, was reported 397 times last year, of which almost half, 190 cases, involved those dressed in either religious or traditional Jewish clothing including school uniforms or wearing jewelery displaying Jewish symbols.
Sixty-six cases involved schools being directly targeted, double the figure for 2013 of 32. Campus incidents more than doubled to 19 from 9 the previous year.
Descriptions of the offenders were known in 340 incidents, 29% of the total. Of these, 144 (44%) were described as white, 26 were said to be black (8%), 127 were South Asian (37%), and 34 (10%) were noted as Arab or North African. These ratios changed during the Gaza conflict period with the proportion of whites and blacks dropping and an increase in those of South Asian appearance to 50% and Arab- or North Africanlooking to 12%.
As for the motivation behind attacks, the CST said that 453 showed far-right, anti-Israel or Islamist beliefs accompanying anti-Semitism, representing 39% of the total for the year, as compared with 130 (24%) in 2013.
In a further breakdown, there were 256 reports in the anti-Israel category, those from far-right ideology totaled 159 and those with Islamic beliefs 38, though during the Gaza conflict, 76% showed anti-Israel motivation.
Speaking in the House of Commons during Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday just before the CST report was released, David Cameron told MPs the government was committed to continuing funding to assist provide protection for Jewish schools and that he was already in discussion with Jewish leaders over money to help protect 120 Jewish communal buildings.
He added, “In my view we need to do everything we can to help this community to feel safe and secure in our country. I would hate it for British Jews not to feel that they have a home here in Britain, safe, secure and a vital part of our community.
Commenting on the record statistics, CST’s chief executive, David Dew, said it demonstrated just how easily anti-Semitic attitudes “can erupt into race-hate abuse, threats and attacks.” While he was thankful most were nonviolent, they were still “shocking and upsetting for those that suffered them and for the wider Jewish community.”
He added that the CST, together with the police and politicians, would continue working to find ways “to reduce anti-Semitism and hate crime and to better prosecute and convict those who carry it out.”
Home Secretary Theresa May said she was determined to see that everyone in the UK should be able to live their lives free from racial and religious hatred and harassment. “No one should live in fear because of their beliefs or who they are,” she said.
Describing the figures as “deeply concerning,” May said she remained committed to working with the Jewish community and law enforcement to tackle anti-Semitism. She welcomed the CST’s work in recording the statistics but expressed concern at the under-reporting of hate crime in general. “There is still some way to go, but we are listening and we are taking robust action against anti-Semitism wherever we find it,” she said.
Those views were shared by Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper, who called for social media companies such as Twitter to take “stronger action against hate crimes on their platforms.” Cooper said it was necessary to be more robust in challenging “those who use foreign policy to spread discrimination and hostility,” and demanded renewed determination to “tackle both Islamist and far-right extremism.”