of British Jews'
MPs demand action against rising abuse, harassment and even violence
Ned Temko, chief political correspondent
Sunday September 3, 2006
The charge is made in a hard-hitting report - by MPs from all three major political parties - which will be unveiled at a Downing Street meeting with Tony Blair on Thursday.
The report is published in the wake of an alarming increase in verbal harassment, abusive emails and letters, and even violent assaults on British Jews. The number of incidents that took place in July, which came in the middle of escalating violence in the Middle East, was the third highest on record.
The 10-month inquiry into anti-semitism in Britain was chaired by the former Europe Minister Denis MacShane and included the former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith and the Liberal Democrat environment spokesman Chris Huhne.
Details of the report are being kept confidential until its formal release. However, a draft of the document - seen by The Observer - reveals that incidents of verbal abuse, harassment and violence against Jewish community members and their institutions is reaching worrying levels.
It urges more consistent action by police, prosecutors and the government. All have failed to tackle antisemitism with the same determination as other forms of racism, the report suggests.
The report voices particular concern over 'a minority of Islamic extremists who are inciting hatred towards Jews', and it criticises recent moves by left-wing academics to boycott links with Israel. Though emphasising the right of people to criticise or protest against Israeli government actions, it says 'rage' over Israeli policies has sometimes 'provided a pretext' for anti-semitism.
'Calls to boycott contacts with intellectuals and academics working in Israel are an assault on academic freedom and intellectual exchange,' the report says, adding that the response of university vice-chancellors to such campaigns has been patchy.
Pro-boycott activists have angrily rejected allegations of anti-semitism and accused their critics of using the charge to ward off political criticism of Israel.
MacShane, speaking last week on a BBC radio programme devoted to Jewish community issues, said British Jews were right to 'shudder' at the 'aggressive' comparison of Israeli policies with the Holocaust. He also spoke of a 'witch's brew' of anti-semitism including the far left and 'ultra-Islamist' extremists who reject Israel's right to exist.
Among the report's dozens of recommendations is a call for the government to adopt the broad-ranging European Union definition of anti-semitism - including activities targeting 'the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity' with 'symbols and images associated with classical anti-semitism'.
It also recommends greater security support for the community, which spends millions of pounds on fencing, CCTV cameras and other measures to safeguard synagogues, schools and other communal institutions. 'It is not right for any group of British citizens to dig into their own pocket because they feel there is not adequate protection for their right to express themselves religiously or culturally,' MacShane said.
What they say
Jonathan Sachs, Chief Rabbi
Anti-semitism used to be a product of national cultures. Today's is global, communicated by satellite television, email and the internet. It is not broadcast but narrowcast, targeted at specific audiences, sometimes in Arabic. Its breeding ground is in radical Islamist circles, and its targets - synagogues, Jewish schools and community centres, Jews in the street - often have nothing to do with Israel.
Anthony Lerman, executive director, the Institute for Jewish Policy Research
Anti-semitism today is a serious problem for Jews and for society as a whole. But what of the vexed question of whether anti-Zionism or singling out Israel for extreme criticism is anti-semitic? While very many Jews feel a deep attachment to Israel, it is the opposite of clear thinking to assume that all expressions of anti-Zionism are simply a cloak for, or a form of, anti-semitism. It drains the word of any useful value, confusing a strongly held political view with prejudice against a whole people.
Mitch Simmons, campaigns director, Union of Jewish Students
When a Jewish student waves their family goodbye, their parents have an additional concern: will they be a victim of anti-semitism? University campuses, perhaps more than anywhere else, have been the laboratory for the changing vocabulary of contemporary anti-semitism. If a Jewish student feels it necessary to wear a baseball cap on campus to hide his skullcap for fear of physical or verbal assault, then that campus can no longer be considered a safe space for all students.