'Oldest form of racism' rears head as attacks against Jews rise

Last year there were 639 reports of bigoted violence and abuse against the Jewish community.

It is the second highest number of anti-Semitic incidents ever recorded by the Community Security Trust (CST). The charity, which monitors anti-Semitism in the UK, said these included street attacks, hate mail, threats, and the vandalism and desecration of Jewish property.

Although the figures were significantly lower than 2009, when 926 anti-Semitic incidents were recorded, fuelled by the ground invasion of Gaza by Israeli forces, researchers say they reflect a continuing long-term trend.

The number of physical and verbal attacks against Jews has doubled over the past decade and John Mann, chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group Against Anti-Semitism, said the figures were a "sad and timely reminder", adding: "Our focus is absolute and we will continue to do all we can to ensure these numbers go down over the coming years."

The CST said the raid on the Gaza aid flotilla in May and prominent Jewish festivals in September led to two spikes in the number of incidents. There were 114 violent anti-Semitic attacks in the UK last year, down from 124 in 2009. But worryingly, the number of violent assaults rose as a proportion of the overall total, from 13 per cent in 2009 to 18 per cent last year.

London (219), Manchester (216), Hertfordshire (40) and Leeds (21) had the highest number of recorded anti-Semitic incidents in the country. It's no coincidence that these areas are home to four of the country's largest Jewish communities, but nevertheless the rising trend is cause for concern.

"We have this pattern that whenever there's a crisis in the Middle East involving Israel we see a rise in anti-Semitic incidents in Britain," says CST spokesman, Dave Rich. "But what I think is worrying is after 2009 we expected a big fall last year and although the number of incidents did fall by a third, the trend over the past 10 years is heading upwards and what we are seeing is street racism that is becoming more embedded."

Among the incidents reported was an assault on a Jewish man in Leeds who was standing at a cash machine when a car containing three or four men drove past. One of the occupants shouted "Jude" before they pelted him with eggs. In January last year, the words "F*** the Jews" with a swastika were drawn on a desk at Leeds University, while in Manchester a Jewish-looking man was about to get into his car when a large group of children shouted, "Hitler is coming" at him and threw a brick through his rear window.Such shocking behaviour will rightly upset people, but does the increase in the number of incidents being reported mean racial tension is rising?

"The numbers are a lot higher now and that is partly because we have become more integrated within the Jewish community, so we expected the report rate would increase. But that alone can't explain the year-on-year rise we are seeing," says Mr Rich.

"It could be because we get these spikes and the figures never quite go back to where they were before. There are different types of anti-Semitism and sometimes it relates to anti-social behaviour. It doesn't define Jewish life in this country, but it's a problem that is present for people and the more Jewish you look the more likely you are to be targeted."

Labour's Rotherham MP Denis MacShane, author of Globalising Hatred: The New Anti-Semitism, is concerned by what is happening. "Anti-Semitism has resurfaced recently in a very worrying way, so that people are attacked simply because they are Jewish, not because of the views that they hold. People are forgetting where anti-Semitism can lead, it's the oldest form of racism," he says. "It has moved away from the anti-Semitism of the 30s, but it's back out there in a way that it wasn't 25 or 30 years ago."

Which is why it still needs to be tackled. "We expose it, we report it and we don't allow it to resurface. I would like to see one of the big universities in our region starting a course dedicated to the study of anti-Semitism that looks at it in both historical and contemporary terms."

Fabian Hamilton, MP for Leeds North East (Lab), says although we are a much more tolerant and accepting society these days, there are still small pockets of communities that feed on ignorance and prejudice.

"If I talk to Jewish people about anti-Semitic crime they will say it was ever thus and ask if it is happening to others, and sadly the answer is 'yes'."