Antisemitism in the United Kingdom
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Part of Jewish history
History of antisemitism in the United Kingdom
Antisemitism in the United Kingdom originated with the arrival of Jews in the country soon after the Norman Conquest. The earliest Jewish settlement was recorded in 1070. Jews living in the United Kingdom at this time experienced religious discrimination and it is thought that the blood libel which accused Jews of ritual murder originated in Northern England, leading to massacres and increasing discrimination. The Jewish presence continued until King Edward I's Edict of Expulsion in 1290.
Jews were readmitted to the United Kingdom by Oliver Cromwell in 1655, though it is believed that crypto-Jews lived in England during the expulsion. Jews were regularly subjected to discrimination and humiliation which waxed and waned over the centuries, gradually declining as Jews made commercial, philanthropic and sporting contributions to the country.
In the late 19th and early 20th century, the number of Jews in Britain greatly increased due to the exodus of Jews from Russia, which resulted in a large community of Jews forming in the East End of London. Popular sentiment against immigration was used by the British Union of Fascists to incite hatred against Jews, leading to the Battle of Cable Street in 1936, at which the fascists were repulsed by Jews, Irish people and Communists who barricaded the streets.
In the aftermath of the Holocaust, undisguised, racial hatred of Jews became unacceptable in British society. Outbursts of antisemitism emanating from far right groups continued however, leading to the formation of the 43 Group led by Jewish ex-servicemen which broke up fascist meetings. Far-right antisemitism was motivated principally by racial hatred, rather than theological hatred which accused Jews of killing Christ.
Contemporary antisemitism in the United Kingdom
Common antisemitic themes
Contemporary antisemitism in Britain has become more complex and multifaceted, evolving its own vocabulary and imagery. It is perpetrated principally by the far-left, far-right and Islamists, whose distinct forms of antisemitism have gradually merged with one another.
Records of antisemitic incidents began to be compiled in 1984, however reporting practices have changed considerably since records began, as have levels of reporting.
The principal themes in contemporary antisemitism are:
- Anti-Zionism: Whilst criticism of Israel similar to that leveled at other states cannot be antisemitic, some manifestations of anti-Zionism are antisemitic under the international definition of antisemitism.
- Holocaust denial: Denial of the Holocaust, or any attempt to diminish its scale or significance is always antisemitic in intent. Holocaust deniers belittle or deny the Holocaust based on antisemitic conspiracy websites, bogus scientists and discredited academics, some of whom have criminal convictions for their antisemitism.
- Blood libel: In the modern era, blood libel continues to be a major aspect of antisemitism. It has extended its reach to accuse Jews of many different forms of harm that can be carried out against other people, such as harvesting the organs of non-Jews.
- Jewish immorality: A key antisemitic theme asserts that Jews are greedy and immoral, and even naturally inclined towards pedophilia and orchestrating war.
- Conspiracy theories: Jews are accused of participating in secret and sinister plots to exert wide-ranging control throughout the world in order to profit while non-Jews suffer. It was one of Adolf Hitler’s key justifications for the Holocaust.
In January 2015, Campaign Against Antisemitism (CAA) released its first Antisemitism Barometer survey. Conducted with YouGov, CAA surveyed the British population about their attitudes towards Jewish people. The survey showed seven antisemitic statements to respondents and asked whether they agreed or disagreed with them. 45% of British adults believed at least one antisemitic stereotype to be true, 26% of British adults believed two or more antisemitic stereotypes to be true and 17% of British adults believed three or more antisemitic stereotypes to be true. The UK Communities Secretary, Sir Eric Pickles, gave a reply to the survey on behalf of the UK government.
A subsequent report by CAA using data from Ipsos MORI found significantly elevated antisemitic attitudes among British Muslims.
The Campaign Against Antisemitism (CAA) published a report in 2016 which said that police figures for antisemitic crime had reached a record level in 2015. The report stated that the level of antisemitic crime in 2014 had been the previous record, and in 2015 there had been a 26% increase in antisemitic crime year-on-year, a 51% increase in violent antisemitic crime, but a marginal reduction in charging by the police, which the CAA noted as “alarming” given the large increase in antisemitic crime during the same period and was very critical of the police. A year prior to the CAA report, the Community Security Trust (CST) published a report that indicated a significant increase in antisemitic incidents during 2014 in the United Kingdom, more than twice as many as had been recorded the previous year, however incidents recorded by CST were not necessarily crimes and may not have been recorded as such by police forces.
The levels of antisemitic incidents in the UK often rise temporarily, in response to 'trigger events', often but not always related to Israel or the wider Middle East. Such trigger events are: the conﬂict in Gaza between Israel and Hamas and the terrorist shooting at the Ozar Hatorah Jewish school in Toulouse, France in 2012; the second Lebanon War in 2006; the Iraq War in 2003; the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001; and the outbreak of the Second Intifada in 2000.
The Campaign Against Antisemitism (CAA) published a report in 2016 which said that police figures for antisemitic crime had reached a record level in 2015. The report stated that the level of antisemitic crime in 2014 had been the previous record, and in 2015 there had been a 26% increase in antisemitic crime year-on-year, a 51% increase in violent antisemitic crime, but a marginal reduction in charging by the police, which the CAA noted as “alarming” given the large increase in antisemitic crime during the same period and was very critical of the police. A year prior to the CAA report, the Community Security Trust published a report that indicated a significant increase in antisemitic incidents during 2014 in the United Kingdom. The report said that, the number of antisemitic incidents more than doubled in 2014 compared to the previous year, reaching 1,168 hate-crimes. Antisemitic reactions in Britain to the conflict in Israel and the Gaza Strip is named by CST as the largest contributing factor, with the highest-ever monthly total of 314 antisemitic incidents recorded in July 2014 (the same month of the operation protective edge). Despite these findings, research published in June 2015 by Pew Research Center showed that out of six countries participating, the population of the UK had almost the most favorable views of Jews.
While 78% of Europeans have a favorable opinion of Jewish people (13% did not however), in UK 83% of the population hold positive views, and only 7% hold unfavorable opinions of them. This can be contrasted with Muslims (81% favourable) and Roma (63%).
In July 2015 the Community Security Trust published an antisemitic incidents report for the first six months of the year. The report showed an increase of 53% compared with the previous year's results, with 473 incidents across the UK. Most of the incidents (353) were under the category of "abusive behavior". There were significant increases in the violent categories ("violent assault" and "extreme violence") with 44 incidents, which is double the number for the previous year. In 36% of the total number of incidents there was a political reference: 32 incidents referred to Israel and Zionism, 16 incidents mentioned Islam and 122 incidents included far right discourse.
Effect on British Jews
The Campaign Against Antisemitism published a survey in 2015 which found that 45% of British Jews of British Jews feared they may have no future in Britain, 77% of British Jews had witnessed antisemitism disguised as a political comment about Israel and 25% of British Jews had considered leaving Britain in the last two years because of antisemitism.
Political action against antisemitism
Home Affairs Select Committee inquiry
In 2016, the Home Affairs Select Committee held an inquiry into the rise of antisemitism in the UK. The inquiry called Jeremy Corbyn, Ken Livingstone and others to give evidence. Its report was sharply critical of Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour Party, the Chakrabarti Inquiry, the Liberal Democrats, the National Union of Students, Twitter and police forces for variously exacerbating or failing to address antisemitism. The report endorsed various recommendations previously made by Campaign Against Antisemitism.
All-Party Parliamentary inquiry
In 2005, a group of British Members of Parliament set up an inquiry into antisemitism, which published its findings in 2006. Its report stated that "until recently, the prevailing opinion both within the Jewish community and beyond [had been] that antisemitism had receded to the point that it existed only on the margins of society." It found a reversal of this progress since 2000. The inquiry was reconstituted following a surge in antisemitic incidents in Britain during the summer of 2014, and the new inquiry published its report in 2015, making recommendations for reducing antisemitism.
- Antisemitism in Scotland
- History of the Jews in England
- History of the Jews in Scotland
- History of the Jews in Northern Ireland
- History of the Jews in Wales
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- It should be noticed that despite improvements in reporting, it is to be expected that antisemitic hate crime and hate incidents, are signiﬁcantly under-reported. This is particularly the case where the victims are minors; where the incident is considered of 'lesser' impact by the victim; and for incidents that take place on social media. Hence the statistics should be taken as being indicative of general trends, rather than absolute measures of the number of incidents that actually took place in the UK.
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