In the first six months of 2019 there were 85 separate incidents of physical assaults on Jewish people in Britain, the highest figure recorded in the last 11 years. In 25 of these cases the victims were punched or kicked, In 23 cases objects were thrown at the Jewish victims, such as stones, bottles or eggs. In 53 of the 85 cases antisemitic verbal abuse occurred too.
In most of the years since 2009 the figures for assaults for equivalent 6-month periods were in the 20s, 30s and 40s, although a similarly high figure (80) was reached in 2017. For all the screaming newspaper headlines in the last four years which mainly relate to wild and counter-intuitive accusations of antisemitism against the Labour Party, for which actual evidence is usually severely lacking, this stark description of physical assaults in the half-yearly report of the Community Security Trust (CST), at least gives us a real snapshot of antisemitism in British society.
First, though, a health warning. On its own website, the Trust claims that it “represents the Jewish community on a wide range of Police, governmental and policy-making bodies dealing with security and antisemitism.” But as the Jewish historian Geoffrey Alderman points out “the CST represents no one but itself and is mandated to espouse the views of none other than its own trustees”. Those trustees are appointed by the CST itself and include a number of Tory and Blairite political figures and some connected with pro-Israel lobbying. It grew out of a body called the Community Security Organisation, which was originally attached to the Board of Deputies, but went independent in the 1980s and was run by various individual businessmen, some of whom had a background in political and even physical anti-fascism.
Before it became CST, the CSO was already on a trajectory where it had started to locate threats to Jews as emanating more from the left than the right, or from “Muslim extremists”. But unlike the Board of Deputies or the Chief Rabbi’s office it has not become obsequiously tied to the Tory Party and right wing Zionism.
The CST are not apologists for Netanyahu, but they divorce “Zionism” (which in their parlance is simply the legitimate expression of “Jewish self-determination”) from its utterly devastating and disastrous impact on Palestinian people, people who they rarely if ever mention. They state that not all anti-Zionism is antisemitism, but behave as if it is. They barely acknowledge the legitimacy of religious anti-Zionism and airbrush right out of history the long and noble traditions of secular Jewish anti-Zionism (including Bundism) which are as old as political Zionism itself, and acquiring new adherents. They ignore the completely justified and perfectly rational anti-Zionism of Palestinians, whether under occupation, in exile, or living as second class citizens in Israel.
Despite the CST’s severe political limitations, it nevertheless takes the gathering of information on antisemitic acts seriously and, at the moment, is our most reliable source of information on actual antisemitic incidents that occur in Britain. The CST does not independently seek out cases to put into its 6-monthly reports but bases its figures on instances reported to it by members of the public. They do careful analysis of these reported incidents, and regularly reject a considerable number of them in which Jews have seen themselves as victims of antisemitism, but for which they could not find any evidence of antisemitic motivation, language or targeting. So in addition to the 892 cases CST recorded during those first 6 months of 2019, they rejected a further 270 that for these very reasons.
While we might take issue with their politically-inflected interpretations, their information is quite sound and should be taken seriously by those who seek to challenge all racism in British society.
So, apart from physical assaults, what were the other kinds of incidents? There were 38 instances of damage and desecration of Jewish property. In one appalling case which CST received a report about in April, an elderly couple, both Holocaust survivors, returned from a holiday to find their home burgled, ransacked and desecrated with antisemitic graffiti reading “Cunt Jews” scrawled in large letters across their living room wall.
In five of the cases where Jewish property was attacked, Jewish schools suffered damage, and another five involved damage to synagogue buildings. There were also 106 examples where antisemitic graffiti was scrawled on non-Jewish property.
The most common incidents of antisemitism, though, consisted of verbal or online abuse and threats. In 225 cases the victims were random Jewish individuals (or individuals believed to be Jewish) in public places. In just under half of these incidents, the victims were visibly Jewish, on account of their religious or traditional clothing, Jewish school uniforms, or jewellery bearing religious symbols. These kinds of incidents closely parallel Islamophobic incidents that target hijab-wearing women and girls.
How serious are such incidents? Might they just be carried out by youngsters messing
around, finding a vulnerable target? By and large they are not. Where perpetrators have been identified, 83% of them were adults, predominantly male adults. As in previous years the bulk of the incidents have taken place in the two big Jewish centres – London and Manchester – though numbers of incidents are growing in Hertfordshire, Merseyside and Northumbria, which has an ultra-orthodox Jewish seminary in Gateshead. Some of the physical attacks have been on those Jews in Gateshead.
Some categories of incidents have been reducing but are more than replaced by the increase in online abuse and threats, which in this 6-month period counted for more than a third of the incidents. This is a much trickier area. There is a very big difference between abuse and threats on the one hand, and strongly worded political commentary, on the other.
Their report acknowledges that they pay particular attention to “conspiracy fuelled sentiments… stereotypical tropes about Jewish people’s power, influence, money…”.
The figures include 55 online incidents in some way linked to the hotly contested arguments that have been flying around alleging antisemitism in the Labour Party. One example that is specifically cited does not give confidence that this judgement has always been made accurately. Presumably in the context of an online argument the following comment was made:
“The Israeli lobby is relelentless and powerful but we now know they are there and the key is to stand up to all tyranny regardless of what cloak it wears or web of lies that it spins. They’ve overplayed their hand with the Corbyn witch-hunt”.
It cannot seriously be denied that Israeli government and media interests have helped to fuel the “witch-hunt”, or, more accurately, the all-out war against Corbyn-led Labour, though I regard them as junior contributors in a war led by powerful domestic interests especially the Tory Party and the Tory-supporting press, who are fighting this principally for domestic political goals. We always have to be alert to conspiracy theories, and many conspiracy theories around politics and economics are antisemitic, but I would not place this comment above unequivocally in the category of antisemitism.
While I was finishing writing this blog I became aware of a further report released just today by the CST called Engine of Hate: the online networks behind the Labour Party’s antisemitism crisis, which has fuelled my doubts still further about CST’s judgements of alleged online cases of antisemitism. This further report mixes together clear examples of antisemitism on twitter accounts with those that make perfectly legitimate statements that in many cases the allegations of antisemitism are unsubstantiated by evidence, distorted and exaggerated, and made in bad faith for factional political purposes.
CST also repeats the phrase “the Labour Party’s crisis of antisemitism”. Antisemitism in British society is real. Antisemitism by a small number of Labour members and supporters is real. These should be exposed and challenged, but the so-called “crisis” is an invention by right wingers, including some Jewish right wingers, with a political axe to grind. The Engine of Hate seems to completely ignore the network of ultra-right-wing Zionist trolls targeting left wing Jews, and spreading disinformation.
To come back to the 6-monthly collection of incidents: if there is any comfort to be drawn from the report it is the reduction in one category of recorded incidents that should be of great concern to all anti-racists. That is the incidents of antisemitism perpetrated by people from other minorities who are themselves victims of racism. In recent years that has grown and has been hovering around the 40% mark. It is only in a minority of cases that ethnic identification is possible but the percentage of such perpetrators from other identifiable minority groups in incidents over this 6-month period has reduced to 32%. That is still a considerable number, and suggests that Jewish community groups should direct efforts towards strengthening relations between Jews and other minorities against common threats of racism, especially from the far right.
That task gets harder every time that prominent spokespersons in the Jewish community align politically with the very forces who created the “Hostile Environment” for long settled Caribbean citizens, for migrants and refugees, or align with those forces whose austerity policies impact disproportionately on marginalised minority communities.
When the Jewish Chronicle editor Stephen Pollard, looks at the serious contents of this report and then tries to blame the rise on antisemitism in British society on Jeremy Corbyn he merely displays the most pathetic and transparent political animus against the Labour Party, and proves that Pollard himself is part of the problem. Total dedication to “defending Israel” from completely justifiable political criticism, has moved many of those who define themselves as Jewish community “leaders” politically closer to the very forces in the world that are spreading Islamophobia, anti-migrant and anti-refugee prejudice, without apparently noticing that these prejudices are riding in tandem with a renewed antisemitism.
But it is also incumbent on the anti-racist movement as a whole to acknowledge the reality of antisemitism today, the different ways it is being fuelled, and the range of perpetrators. And that movement must once more prove itself, through its practice, to be the Jewish community’s most reliable ally in the fight against antisemitism.