07 September 2006
British Jews facing unprecedented rise in anti-Semitism
LONDON - Britain's Jewish community faces an unprecedented level of anti-Semitism and feels more threatened than ever, according to the report of the all-party parliamentary inquiry into anti-Semitism, which is to be released Thursday.
The panel found an increase in "anti-Semitic discourse," particularly among leftist groupings, and recommends a series of actions to prevent the situation from deteriorating further.
Panel chairman Denis MacShane, who will present the report's conclusions to Prime Minister Tony Blair Thursday, told Haaretz Wednesday that the report rings the "alarm bells" for Britain.
The committee was created about a year ago in order "to investigate the current problem, identify the sources of contemporary anti-Semitism and make recommendations that we believe will improve the current situation."
Over 100 written statements were submitted to the 14 committee members, who span the political spectrum. Experts, politicians and public figures testified before the panel in four separate hearings.
The panel was initiated by members of Parliament and not intended to be an official inquiry.
According to the report, the number of anti-Semitic incidents reported in Britain has risen since 2000, accompanied by a decline in public support for Jews.
The panel attributed the escalation to flare-ups in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict (but did not specify a direct connection), as well as the "anti-Semitic discourse" being held openly among Muslims, the extreme left and, to a lesser extent, the extreme right.
"It is this phenomenon that has contributed to an atmosphere where Jews have become more anxious and more vulnerable to abuse and attack than at any other time for a generation or longer," the report said.
"We are ringing the alarm bells for Britain," MacShane told Haaretz, to tell the people that the country's Jews are unable to live lives free of fear and to enjoy cultural, community and religious life without the constant fear of being attacked.
He said that one of the most important findings of the panel is that most Britons are simply unaware of the serious problem of anti-Semitism in their country.
Great Britain is home to 300,000 Jews, two-thirds of whom live in the Greater London area. The recommendations in the 66-page report include better reporting of anti-Semitic incidents on the part of the police and an investigation of why only ten percent of such incidents result in a suspect being accused.
"The Panel recommends that the Home Office require police forces nationwide to record such incidents using the current Metropolitan police model of categorizing such incidents as both racist and anti-Semitic."
It "calls on the Department for Communities and Local Government to commission an annual survey of attitudes and tensions between Britain's communities to be monitored by the Commission for Racial Equality," and places great emphasis on combating anti-Semitism on university campuses and on limiting "traditional broadcast and internet access to racist, including anti-Semitic, material."
One of the more interesting chapters of the report deals with the public mood in Britain, which, according to the authors, changes markedly "when Jews are discussed, whether in print or broadcast, at universities, or in public or social settings."
The report warns against the growth of a "new anti-Semitism" that transfers the traditional stereotypes about Jews to Israel, as a Zionist state. "We heard evidence that contemporary anti-Semitism in Britain is now more commonly found on the left of the political spectrum than on the right."
MacShane believes that the academic boycott of Israel by the Association of University Teachers (which was later reversed) and the decision by the Anglican Church to re-examine its investments in companies with ties to the Israel Defense Forces contribute to anti- Semitism.
He said the decision to focus on Israel while ignoring all the non-democratic regimes in the world is hypocritical and contributes to the Jews' feeling like "second-class citizens" who are spurned by certain elements in the country.
The publication of the report coincides with the celebration this month of the 350th anniversary of the Jewish presence in Britain. "I've been here for 11 years and I never thought it would get so bad," said Linda Cohen, an Israeli who was assaulted about two weeks ago in an anti-Semitic incident in the largely Jewish London neighborhood of Golders Green.
Cohen, the owner of a Jewish-Israeli cafe, said, "I didn't know there was anti-Semitism in Britain until two young men assaulted me verbally and physically after asking whether this was a Jewish cafe."
According to the report, anti-Semitism in contemporary Britain is a complex issue. "Anti-Semitism is not one-dimensional. It is perpetrated in different ways by different groups within society and for this reason it is hard to identify."
MacShane hopes the report will draw a lot of attention to the situation of Britain's Jewish community. He says another MP on the committee told him that his constituents are completely unaware of the things heard by the panel over the last year.
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