Just how bad is antisemitism in Britain? How widespread are antisemitic attitudes, and how are Britain’s Jews reacting? These are questions we can finally answer following a year of doubt. The answers are provided by our Antisemitism Barometer polling conducted with help from King’s College London.The results are stark.
We found that almost 8 in 10 British Jews say the various demonstrations, processions, and convoys in Britain during the conflict between Hamas and Israel in May 2021 caused them to feel “intimidated as a Jew.”Indeed, for several weeks in the spring of 2021, during operation “Guardian of the Walls,” which took place thousands of miles away, antisemitism surged on British streets and campuses, online, in workplaces, schools and even hospitals — everywhere.
These events weighed on British Jews.
The consequence is a reversal in the optimism of just a year ago. In 2020, British Jews sighed with relief after the antisemite Jeremy Corbyn failed to become Prime Minister. Suddenly they felt more positively about their community’s future in the UK again. But by 2021, this confidence is again on the retreat. Even fewer British Jews now believe our community has a long-term future in the UK.
A record number — nearing half — admit that they avoid displaying outward signs of their Judaism in public due to antisemitism.
It is not just the perpetrators of antisemitism and their fellow travelers — who seemed so numerous during the weeks of conflict — who give the Jewish community cause for concern.
For British Jews, the criminal justice system, tasked with holding antisemites to account, is also to blame. The Crown Prosecution Service has always performed poorly in our polling, given its record of failure to prosecute antisemitic criminals. But, for the first time ever, a majority of British Jews also do not believe that the police and the courts do enough to protect them.
Antisemitism this year has also affected how British Jews view wider society. For the first time ever, a majority do not believe that their non-Jewish neighbors do enough to protect them.In fact, our polling of the British public with YouGov shows that there is reason for discomfort: almost one-quarter of British adults believe that “Israel treats the Palestinians like the Nazis treated the Jews,” which is antisemitic under the International (IHRA) Definition of Antisemitism, and more than one in ten Britons hold entrenched antisemitic views.
There are more specific incubators of antisemitism as well. Over eight in ten British Jews still feel that Labor is too tolerant of racism against Jews, belying its leader Sir Keir Starmer’s claim to have “shut the door” on antisemitism in his Party. It’s extraordinary how little this polling metric has improved since Mr. Corbyn departed from office, but, given our charity’s complaints against numerous senior Labor figures still remain uninvestigated, it is not altogether unsurprising either.
Almost all other political parties are also performing worse than they have in the past. The Green Party is now believed by a majority of the Jewish community to be too tolerant of antisemitism. The Party’s Scottish branch, which has condemned Zionism as a “racist ideology,” is now in the two-party governing coalition north of the border.
For the first time, British Jews were also asked how they felt about antisemitism in universities and on social media. Almost every respondent said they believed both were a problem, underlining the need for action.For universities, this must include not only the wider adoption of the International Definition of Antisemitism but, crucially, its application when allegations of antisemitism arise.
For social media giants, having abjectly failed to prove that they can keep racist material and incitement from their platforms, the only option is regulation, and the British Government is right to have brought forward draft legislation.
Britain cannot be content when almost half of a long-established minority community feels the need to hide in public or that the authorities are failing to protect them. It is not too late to make the right changes in politics, at universities, online and in criminal justice, but the time for action is now.
Gideon Falter is the Chief Executive of Campaign Against Antisemitism.
This op-ed is published in partnership with a coalition of organizations that fight antisemitism across the world. Read the previous article by Dr. Shmuel Katz.