New CST figures out for antisemitism in Britain

This piece, by Mark Gardner, Communications Director of the CST, is published on comment is free.

CST (Community Security Trust) monitors antisemitism on behalf of the British Jewish community. One of our most important roles is the recording of antisemitic incidents, reported to us by British Jews and others.

In recent weeks, CST’s staff have undergone intense training from the Home Office’s Victim Support Unit, to ensure that our service as first responders to antisemitic hate crime victims is as good as it can be. The training used real case studies, making some of the intricacies of victims’ lives and traumas harrowing for us to hear. It served as a profound reminder that a real person is behind every report and statistic we deal with, and that each victim’s reactions depend upon their own histories, personalities and environments. The experts stressed that our obligation is to listen properly and make constructive suggestions, but not to tell victims how they should actually feel about what they have suffered.

We can apply this learning in a more general sense to the many challenging questions that arise from today’s report from CST regarding antisemitic incident levels in the UK. CST recorded over 900 such incidents across Britain during 2009: an increase of 55% from the previous worst year on record, 2006. On both occasions, Jews in Britain and elsewhere around the world suffered a wave of antisemitic attacks, triggered by reactions to conflicts involving Israel.

Whatever you think of Israeli politics, attacking local Jews out of anger at Israel is racism. Most Jews support Israel at a basic, emotional level, although many do not. And among Jews who support Israel in a general sense, there is a vast range of opinions on every political issue or government policy. To treat every Jewish person, or synagogue, or organisation as personifying whatever you despise about Israel is to apply the racist idea of collective guilt.

Historically, antisemites have always sought to justify their behaviour on some premise or other. The rest of society can react to this in various ways: to condemn, to turn a blind eye, or to approve and encourage. Presently, far too many anti-racists fail to condemn. Indeed, the attitude displayed by some to Jewish concerns about antisemitism seems to tally with the description of institutional racism in the Macpherson report:

“The collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture or ethnic origin which can be seen or detected in processes; attitudes and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and racist stereotyping which disadvantages minority ethnic people.”

Anti-racists must condemn anti-Jewish racism as readily as they would any other type of racism. Anything less and they risk fostering the notion, seductive for a dangerous minority, that antisemitism in the name of anti-Israel hatred is somehow a legitimate form of political protest. On previous occasions when we have tried to discuss the issue of antisemitism on this forum, we have been accused of various things. First, that we are part of some global conspiracy to shut down criticism of Israel. Second, that the figures are fake and exaggerated. Third, that even though the figures are lies, they paradoxically prove that the escalation in antisemitic incidents is the fault of Israel and the fault of Jewish representative bodies. Indeed, the fault of everybody but antisemites.

In reply, I could offer numerous facts about how CST’s statistics and individual reports (minus identifying details of victims) are discussed in detail with academics, criminologists, police analysts, civil servants, ministers and others. I could go through CST’s work with the Association of Chief Police Officers in developing the third party reporting system for victims of hate crime throughout the UK. I could cite how we have worked with Christians, Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs to help them set up similar groups to our own. To those with an open mind, I would simply ask that you take the time to read CST’s report, available at CST’s website. This explains the statistics, provides case studies and also shows the standards by which we deem something to be antisemitic rather than anti-Israel, or criminal but not racist. Anybody who reads the full report will find a complex and nuanced picture of hate crimes against British Jews.

One particular drawback of discussing antisemitism is that it risks causing some Jewish people to be afraid to lead the life that they would otherwise choose. Ignoring the problem, however, will not make it go away. Furthermore, understanding and explaining the problem are the cornerstones upon which Jews and others can build strategies and partnerships to combat it.

CST provides many physical and political responses to antisemitism. For example, we have installed shatterproof window film at hundreds of Jewish sites across the country. Consequently, in January 2009, when arsonists tried to burn down a London synagogue in the middle of the night, they were unable to break a window and gain access to the inside of the building, and the damage caused was limited to the outside of the door.

It is, however, important that CST’s security measures are augmented by the actions and behaviour of others. Within the Jewish community, we should take care not to allow antisemitism to dominate us. This fightback can begin by opposing antisemitism when it occurs, while consciously appreciating and seizing the vast range of religious, cultural, charitable and political options that exist for the expression of Jewish life and identity in Britain today. Do this, and we will see that not only is antisemitism well worth opposing wherever it rears its ugly head, but also that it most certainly does not define the average day in the life of British Jews.

Beyond the Jewish community, politicians, police and prosecutors are increasingly alive to the problem and what it says about the state of Britain today. It is time that those parts of the liberal left that have previously ignored or downplayed the growing problem of antisemitism fulfil their anti-racist credentials and listen to the experiences of an increasing number of British Jews.

This piece, by Mark Gardner, Communications Director of the CST, is published on comment is free.