Anti-Semitism ‘on the rise’ in UK

The government, police and universities must do more to tackle the rise in anti-Semitism in the UK, a group of MPs has warned today.

Research by the all-party inquiry on anti-Semitism finds that not only are attacks and desecration of Jewish property on the rise, but anti-Jewish sentiment is increasingly present in mainstream public and political discourse.

“Acts of violence and abuse towards Jews are an affront to any modern society,” said the group’s chairman, former Foreign Office minister Denis McShane.

“The most worrying discovery of this inquiry is that anti-Jewish sentiment is entering the mainstream, appearing in the everyday conversations of people who consider themselves neither racist nor prejudiced.”

According to the Community Security Trust, a not-for-profit group providing security for the Jewish community, there were 455 anti-Semitic incidents last year, a fall of 14 per cent on the previous year but the second highest level since 1984.

No official police figures are available because many forces do not collate figures on anti-Jewish attacks – with two-thirds of the 300,000 Jews in the UK living in London and the surrounding counties, most areas say the numbers are too small to be analysed.

But today’s report says this is “inexcusable” and calls on police to improve their reporting of anti-Semitic incidents. It urges these figures to be included in the Foreign Office’s annual human reports presented to parliament.

Universities must also step up their game when it comes to anti-Jewish sentiment, the report says, particularly where tensions exist between Muslim and Jewish groups on campus.

It notes that some universities have been targeted as training grounds by Islamist extremists. Most of these groups on the fringe of the Muslim community express anti-Jewish and anti-Israel sentiment that has been encouraged by anti-Semitic rhetoric coming from the Middle East, it argues.

One of the inquiry’s most worrying findings, however, is that “anti-Jewish themes and remarks are gaining acceptability in some quarters in public and private discourse in Britain and there is a danger that this trend will become more and more mainstream”.

In particular it notes that anti-Semitism is no longer confined to the far right of British politics – although it warns there must be no complacency about the anti-Jewish rhetoric coming from groups like the BNP.

It cites Labour’s election campaign last year in which Conservative leader Michael Howard was portrayed as Shakespeare’s Jewish money-lending character, Shylock.

And it accuses George Galloway’s Respect party, which took the seat of Bethnal Green and Bow in the 2005 general election, of providing a “platform” for anti-Zionist groups.

The group calls on the Electoral Commission to draw up a contract of “acceptable behaviour” which outlines to all election candidates the need for care when discussing issues of racism, community relations and minorities.