Britain vows to take rigid stand against anti-Semitism

British government made 35 recommendations to combat what one official called "the absolute scourge of our society."

Responding to a parliamentary inquiry into the rising tide of anti-Semitism in the United Kingdom, the British government made 35 recommendations to combat what one official called "the absolute scourge of our society." The recommendations include: improving the recording and reporting of anti-Semitic incidents; reviewing and strengthening the prosecution process; accelerating efforts to confront extremist groups that spread hate; promoting community cohesion through education about different faiths; and trying to prevent racial or religious intolerance on university campuses. A report in February published by the Community Security Trust, which represents the Jewish community on matters of anti-Semitism, terrorism, policing and security, showed anti-Semitic incidents in the United Kingdom at record levels since documentation began in 1984. Phil Woolas, minister for local government, strongly condemned the increase in incidents and promised to "step up action" to eradicate anti-Semitism. "We will not tolerate racially motivated crime of any kind," he said. "We share the concerns of Jewish communities, and fully support the police and prosecuting authorities in taking a tough line to stamp out anti-Semitism." Woolas said the government recognized that anti-Semitism "has not been taken as seriously as other hate crimes in our society, and that is not acceptable." "Whether anti-Semitism is coming from the far left, far right or Islamic extremists, it must be understood for what it is and condemned and dealt with promptly and effectively through the law," he said. In its response to the All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Anti-Semitism, which was released last September, the British government recommended that law enforcement authorities investigate why there were so few prosecutions for racial hatred and to review cases to see what lessons could be learned. The inquiry had recognized that violence, desecration of property and intimidation toward Jews was on the rise. It cited anti-Semitism on the Internet, among a minority of Islamic extremists, on campus among far right and far left groups, and in the media. Woolas said rhetoric on university campuses "with an undercurrent of hate and racism" was especially worrisome. "There is increasing evidence of activities well beyond freedom of speech or normal youthful behavior that crosses the line into anti-Semitism," he said, "and this is not acceptable for Jewish students to be attacked in this way and is not acceptable for people to incite hatred in this way among students." One measure suggested to tackle this problem was for the government's hate crime task force to look at the matter with urgency. Mitch Simmons, an official with the Union of Jewish Students, said the response "emphasizes the duty of universities to protect Jewish students, although we remain concerned at the lack of clarity regarding the statutory obligations of student unions under the Race Relations Act. "Importantly, the response also acknowledges inconsistency in tackling anti-Semitism on campus, and we look forward to working with the government and universities to produce best-practice guidelines, so that students can feel safe and secure." Secretary of State Ruth Kelly, who championed the report in government, said anti-Semitism was an issue for society. Speaking to the Jewish community, she said, "I hope you feel that Britain is at the forefront of moves to combat what is the absolute scourge of our society." Labor MP Dennis MacShane, chairman of the parliamentary inquiry, said anti-Semitism is being accepted in some parts of British society instead of being condemned. He said he accepts the government's views that a minority of Islamic extremists incite hatred against Jews. "We were in denial for too many years about the whole problem of 'Londonistan,' " he said. One recommendation would have Jewish and Muslim communities and interfaith groups promote joint leadership programs for young Jews and Muslims. The government said it would provide more funding for projects that encourage respect and understanding among communities. MacShane said the report "underlines the extent to which all of Parliament accepts that anti-Semitism has returned as an evil ideology in British politics." He noted the opposition in Parliament, across all parties, to the idea of boycotting Israeli academic institutions. Two organizations of British university educators made such calls in 2005 and 2006, but no boycotts have taken place. "We oppose any calls to boycott contacts with academics in Israel," MacShane said. "It's on the campuses in Israel that the best analysis and most coherent criticism of aspects of Israeli government policy takes place, thus the calls for boycott is completely counterproductive." A statement by the Jewish community welcomed the "comprehensive" response and "robust determination to address the creeping acceptance of physical and discursive anti-Semitism." Jon Benjamin, chief executive of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, said: "The report itself was an immensely important study of what we know to be a real and present problem in British society. It's notable that the government's response acknowledged that there may have been a tendency in the past not to take anti-Semitism as seriously as other forms of racism. "This is the start of a process, and we look forward to working closely with government and others to take forward the report's recommendations," he said. Mark Gardner, communications director for Community Security Trust, said his group particularly welcomed the government's acceptance of a recommendation that police services throughout the country adopt the model of the Metropolitan Police Service in recording anti-Semitic incidents. The Metropolitan Police Service can categorize incidents as racist and anti-Semitic; only a minority of forces have that capability. In its February report, CST said there were 594 anti-Semitic incidents in 2006, a 31 percent increase from the 455 recorded the previous year and the most since records were started in 1984. The number of violent assaults jumped 37 percent, to 112 in '06 from 82 in '05. The London Jewish Forum called on local authorities, particularly the Greater London Authority, to take the initiative in implementing the inquiry's recommendations. "We will be working with the GLA to see how these can be implemented as part of the strategy for London to promote a prosperous, secure and diverse city based on mutual respect," said Adrian Cohen, the Jewish Forum's chairman. The government recommended that a discussion in the media focus on the impact of language and imagery in the discourse on Judaism, anti-Zionism and Israel. It called on the media to show sensitivity and balance in their reporting and to recognize that how the news is reported can have an impact on the interaction among communities.