Militant Islamic media accused of stirring up new wave of anti-semitism
Jamie Doward, religious affairs correspondent
Sunday August 8, 2004
Anti-Semitic attacks in Britain will reach record levels this year, say Jewish groups which accuse the government of inaction.
The predicted sharp rise, from 375 last year, appears to be reflected across many European Union countries. Zvi Heifetz, Israel's new ambassador to London, warned last week that combating anti-semitism in Britain would prove a major challenge for the government.
'There is more than one anti-semitic incident a day in Britain. That is a serious problem,' Heifetz said. His comments follow the controversial invitation from his Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, to all French Jews to leave France for Israel immediately to avoid 'wild' anti-semitism.
Leading UK Jewish groups say a new wave of militant Islamic media is fostering anti-semitism among Muslims.
Michael Whine, who collects evidence of attacks on Britain's 350,000 Jews for the Community Security Trust (CST), said: 'In Britain as in other European countries there has been a very substantial rise in violence towards Jewish people. This year looks set to become one of the worst, if not the worst.'
Whine drew parallels with France, where there have been 519 attacks in the first six months of the year, compared with 553 attacks in the whole of 2003. 'While we don't have as many incidents in Britain, we are expecting a significant rise this year.'
The CST is advising Jewish organisations to keep their blinds or curtains shut to disguise their links with Judaism. A number of synagogues now hire security guards to patrol their premises, while others rely on their members, using walkie-talkies, to keep watch.
Since late 2000 more than 100 British synagogues have been desecrated, say Jewish groups. Most recently, vandals set fire to sacred books in a synagogue in Tottenham, north London, some of which were more than 100 years old and had been smuggled out of Germany and Poland before the Second World War.
One local authority has started keeping records of attacks. Barnet Council in north London, with a Jewish population of 50,000, the largest in the country, made the move after a synagogue attached to the Aish HaTorah Jewish educational network in Hendon was set on fire last month. Police are not linking the Hendon and Tottenham attacks to Muslim groups.
In addition to the synagogue fires, the Co-ordination Forum for Countering Anti-Semitism, which collects evidence of all forms of anti-semitism across the globe, lists other attacks on Jewish people in Britain in the last month alone. They include:
· Anti-semitic graffiti - 'Kill the Jews and kurst [ sic ] the Zionist Jews' - on the wall of a Lancashire church.
· The desecration of 68 gravestones in the Jewish section of Middlesbrough cemetery.
· A series of attacks on Jewish residents in Borehamwood, Hertfordshire.
· A Jewish wedding invitation was opened en route to its destination and defaced by a drawing of the World Trade Centre in New York with planes flying into it. On the back was written: 'Fucking Jewish Murderers - its gona [ sic ] be ur [ sic ] houses next.'
'After 11 September, the big fear was a significant increase in attacks on the Muslim community,' said Gerry Gable, publisher of the anti-fascist magazine Searchlight.
'But in London the number of attacks actually went down. What has gone up, especially in Manchester and Leeds, are attacks on Jewish places of worship by people who are identifiably from the Muslim community.'
Whine blamed Arab-run media for disseminating more anti-Jewish reports than a few years ago. 'It seems to provide the trigger for anti-semitic violence,' he said.
New technology such as the internet and satellite broadcasting has also played a part in spreading anti-Jewish sentiment. Government ministers and Foreign Office staff have expressed concern to their counterparts in the Middle East about the anti-semitic tone of sermons preached in a number of mosques and relayed for broadcasting in Britain.
Jewish groups said there had been an increase in the number of Islamic bookshops in London selling anti-semitic literature, such as Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf . 'A few years ago we would approach a bookshop and ask the owner if they knew what they were selling. But now it has become so prevalent we don't bother,' Whine said.
'It wouldn't be fair to say the government is ignoring the problem, but it's not doing enough to tackle it.'
Inayat Bunglawala, the spokesman for the Muslim Council of Britain, said it was nonsense to single out militant Islamic groups. 'While any anti-semitic attack by a Muslim or a non-Muslim is deplorable, all too often the CST jumps to the wrong conclusion,' he said.
Rabbi Pete Tobias, of the Hertsmere Progressive Synagogue in Elstree, Hertfordshire, which is part of the Liberal Judaism network, stressed, however, that not all Jews felt threatened.
'I don't think it affects members of my synagogue at all. The liberal movement is very well integrated and many members have non-Jewish influences they like to express. The threat is greatly reduced if there is nothing visibly Jewish about them.'
Education was crucial if anti-semitism was to be eradicated in parts of Britain. 'You look at kids playing together in the nursery and you wonder how one of them could end up throwing a petrol bomb,' Tobias said.
Others say a dialogue with the left is essential. Gable said: 'A lot of anti-semitism is driven by the left. There are elements who take up a position on Israel and Palestine which in reality puts them in league with anti-semites. It's becoming more pervasive. A lot of hatred is being built up by people who really should know better.'