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We must ensure that antisemitism gets no foothold in Britain
Polling shows that British Jews are better integrated than their European counterparts; we must not let extremists change this
Last week’s horrific jihadist attacks in Paris, and in particular the murder of shoppers at a kosher supermarket, have added to already-existing anxiety amongst British Jews about antisemitism.
The journalists at Charlie Hebdo, and the police officers protecting them, were murdered in the line of duty. Those murdered at the Hyper Cacher shop were killed simply for being Jewish.
Many Jews have also noticed that the only woman killed at the Charlie Hebdo office, Elsa Cayat, was the only Jewish woman present.
“We don’t kill women”, Said Kouachi said to one terrified journalist during the attack. Unless they are Jewish, it seems.
This jihadist determination to slaughter Jews is not new. Its French iteration left its bloody mark in Brussels last year and in Toulouse in 2012.
Add in the anti-Jewish riots in Paris and Sarcelles last summer, the regular violent antisemitic assaults on French Jews that go mostly unreported in the media, and remember the kidnapping, torture and murder of Ilan Halimi in 2006: then you start to appreciate the pressure and fear felt by so many French Jews.
This is why the 7,000 French Jews who moved to Israel in 2014 was more than double the number who moved in 2013, itself a large increase on the 2012 figure of 1,923 emigrants. There is also an increasing French presence in the Jewish communities of London and New York.
Events in France do not only affect the confidence of French Jews. Here in Britain, Jewish people also feel increasingly anxious about their safety and about the future for their families.
Britain saw a large, if temporary, rise in antisemitic incidents during Israel’s war with Hamas last summer: over 300 incidents recorded in July 2014 and over 200 in August, an increase of over 400 per cent compared to the same period in 2013. In Britain, too, jihadists have tried, but so far thankfully failed, to kill Jews.
Yet the situation in Britain is not the same as in France. The antisemitic incidents recorded last summer, though large in number, were mostly not violent. Riot police were not needed to keep mobs from burning down synagogues in London, as they were in Sarcelles.
When the new grassroots group the Campaign Against Antisemitism (CAA) took a non-Jewish journalist to spend an entire day last month walking the streets of London wearing a kippah (skullcap) and a hidden camera, hoping to expose the dark underbelly of British antisemitism, he failed to elicit a single hostile comment from passers-by.
Now CAA has released a YouGov poll about British attitudes towards Jews that essentially repeats the findings of last year’s ADL Global 100 Survey: a stubborn minority of British people – between 10 per cent and 20 per cent – clings onto stereotypical ways of thinking about Jews.
This does not necessarily translate into conscious or active dislike of Jews. The same ADL survey found that just five per cent of British people said they have an unfavourable attitude towards Jews (the same as towards Christians, and less than towards Muslims and Hindus).
So much for the numbers. Just as public fear of crime does not always correlate to actual crime trends or patterns, so individual attacks like those in Paris can have a profound impact on Jewish self-confidence and sense of belonging.
When the European Union’s Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) conducted extensive polling of Jewish perceptions and experiences of antisemitism in 2013, they found that British Jews were, on the whole, better integrated, more confident and less fearful of antisemitism than their West European counterparts.
This led the respected London-based think tank, the Institute for Jewish Policy Research, asked whether Britain was an ‘exceptional case‘ regarding European antisemitism.
In contrast, today the CAA has also released the results of an online survey that suggests British Jews feel significantly less secure now than they did in 2013.
That would not be a complete surprise given the wave of antisemitism last summer and the shootings in Paris, which took place during their survey period, although it is likely that differences in methodology explain some of the more glaring variations between the CAA and FRA results.
Meanwhile, British Jewry has just enjoyed yet another successful Limmud festival of learning, Jewish schools keep opening and London’s JW3 cultural centre has transformed Jewish cultural life in the capital.
Government ministers and police forces are queuing up to offer their support to Jewish communities in the wake of the Paris attacks. This alone makes comparisons to the 1930s inaccurate and unhelpful.
This contrast sums up the situation for British Jews and antisemitism. The dangers are real enough. Jihadis want to kill us; antisemites shout or tweet their abuse; when Israel fights one of its periodic conflicts against Hamas or Hizbollah, latent anti-Jewish attitudes in some sections of British society cause eruptions of antisemitic hate crime.
Yet most of the time, most British Jews do not encounter antisemitism and are able to live whatever Jewish lives they choose.
As French Jews have found, if terrorists are successful in murdering Jews then this delicate balance can be altered irrevocably. The challenge in Britain is to ensure that they do not get that chance.