British minister: UK must confront appalling rise in anti-Semitism

Home Secretary Theresa May speaks to Jewish community, addressing security fears after Islamist gunman killed four French Jews in Paris.

Members of the Board of Deputies of British Jews hold up signs reading "I am Charlie," "I am Jewish" and "I am Ahmed," during an event in London (photo credit: REUTERS)
Members of the Board of Deputies of British Jews hold up signs reading "I am Charlie," "I am Jewish" and "I am Ahmed," during an event in London
(photo credit: REUTERS)
LONDON – Amid extra security British Home Secretary Theresa May and England’s Communities Secretary Eric Pickles gave Anglo Jewry reassurance that the government is planning enhancing legislation to tackle the rising levels of anti-Semitism.
In a joint appearance at the Board of Deputies of British Jews, both made clear that the government not only shares the concerns of the community’s leadership but already has plans to deal especially with two areas that have been troubling the community in recent years.
The home secretary said that in addition to stopping the spread of extremist propaganda and preventing vulnerable people from becoming radicalized, the government would bring forward proposals to combat all forms of extremism and promote inclusive British values.
“We must also confront the appalling spike in anti-Semitism, which we have seen, particularly following the conflict in Gaza,” May said. Last summer there were accounts of bricks being thrown through synagogue windows, people being verbally abused on the street, abusive messages online, graffiti and damage to property.
Besides stepping up protective security arrangements, including increased vehicle patrols of particular sites to ensure effective security and safety, local police have liaised with the Community Security Trust and with other Jewish community organizations to identify particular vulnerability and address local concerns, she said.
The first major issue concerned participants at demonstrations where placards have been displayed and obscene slogans shouted, some even relating to the Holocaust. May said it was “deeply shocking” that people did this and she made clear that those breaking the law should be prosecuted.
But one of the major complaints has been lack of police action on such occasions. May explained that there may be good operational reasons why action is not taken at a particular demonstration, but she promised that in future the police will use evidence gathered to take action afterward.
The second issue related to the use of social media to send anti-Semitic abuse. The home secretary acknowledged that such abuse could be “just as hurtful as offline abuse, can linger on the Internet, be retweeted and viewed by thousands.”
She recalled that the impact of such hated was clearly demonstrated last summer when Labor MP Luciana Berger was subjected to a torrent of anti-Semitic abuse on Twitter.
She said she was pleased that case was reported to the police and that it resulted in a successful prosecution and a custodial sentence.
She announced that officials are working with senior representatives from leading social media organizations, the police and community groups to look at ways to address this issue.
May said that the attack on the Jewish supermarket was “a chilling reminder of anti-Semitism not just in France but the recent anti-Semitic prejudice that sadly we have seen in this country.”
She added: “I know that many Jewish people in this country are feeling vulnerable and fearful, and you are saying that you are anxious for your families for your children and yourselves.”
To loud applause she continued, “I never thought I would see the day when members of the Jewish community in the UK would say that they are fearful of remaining here in the UK, and that means we must all double our efforts to wipe out anti-Semitism here in the UK.”
The home secretary acknowledged that Jewish people have long been an important and integral part of the UK.
“We cherish the enormous contribution you make, not just in the past but today and every day.”