Andrew Vine: Anti-Semitism casting its evil shadow close to home

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THERE are security guards at the gates of the synagogue, and sometimes a police car too, with a couple of watchful uniformed officers.

A high steel fence went up some time ago, and now the people who attend the services pass into what is effectively a secure compound.

How sad it is that a place of worship, to which people come in peace, has to take such precautions, but how necessary too.

For anti-Semitism, that shameful stain on so much European history, is on the march again, fuelled by the growth in Islamist extremism and a resurgence of the far-Right, twin fanaticisms that find common ground in hatred and the revival of ancient prejudice.

The All-Party Parliamentary Report on anti-Semitism made for disturbing reading, confirming as it did that the prevalence of attacks and abuse are increasing.

That was borne out by last week’s figures from the Community Security Trust, which has monitored anti-Semitic attacks since 1984. The number in Britain doubled last year compared to 2013, to 1,168. That figure equates to three every day. The attacks included assaults, graffiti being daubed on homes, synagogues and cemeteries and children being tormented via social media.

Meanwhile an auction house in the United States is crowing about the interest it is receiving about an upcoming sale of Nazi memorabilia, including a pair of spectacles that belonged to SS chief Heinrich Himmler and a cap worn by a concentration camp officer.

Would any saleroom seek to profit from relics recovered from the wreckage of the World Trade Centre after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001?

Absolutely not, for such a sale would grievously insult the memories of the dead, and those who mourn them.

Why then should vile mementoes of the Holocaust, arguably the most evil act in history, be offered for sale if not to cash in on a perverted admiration of Nazism, with anti-Semitism at its black heart? Such a trade could not be more morally repugnant.

I know quite a few of the people who attend the gated and fenced synagogue close to my home – or the others not far distant – and some of them I have known nearly all my life since we went to school together. Then, security guards were not needed.

The people I know are worried at this resurgence in anti-Semitism. So are their friends and neighbours, whether Jewish or not, and bewildered as well at how this has come about.

Any of us who grew up in the heartland of Yorkshire’s Jewish community find it hard to comprehend, as any right-thinking person must. As children, it never occurred to us to define our Jewish friends and classmates as separate, or different in any way.

We played together in breaks and after school, went to each others’ houses for tea, came to adulthood together. Religion or racial background simply did not matter. As we grew into adults, all of us knew that was exactly the way it should be, and dared to believe that anti-Semitism belonged to a darker past.

That it is not so is a call to action for us all. The darkness of a past commemorated two weeks ago on the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz is creeping over too many hearts once more.

Only last week, a job advert appeared in France that was blatantly anti-Semitic. It was a graphic design post – a job in a forward-looking creative industry that one would expect to have no truck with prejudice.

But the wording would not have been out of place in a job advert in the Nazi Germany of the early 1930s, before anti-Semitism became institutionalised by law: “You are rigorous, well-organised, diligent... and if possible not a Jew.”

The advert was removed within minutes of being posted online, and those responsible may face criminal action. The mindset that could write such words speaks of ingrained hatred.

Indeed, the European Jewish Congress has said that France has suffered more anti-Semitic incidents than any other western country. One of the most disturbing aspects of the terrorist atrocity suffered by the country last month was the targeting of a kosher shop where four Jewish people were murdered.

There can be little wonder that there has already been a significant exodus of Jews from France, and the numbers leaving are rising because they fear for their safety.

If there is any comfort to be drawn from the unsettling findings of yesterday’s report on anti-Semitism, or the international outrage at the events in France, it is that both represent a call to arms which we all should heed.

We must oppose anti-Semitism wherever it appears and stamp it out, whether on social media or in the street, rail tirelessly against it and stand up for the rights of the Jewish community to live in peace and without fear. And we must keep on doing so until there is no need for people to worship behind gates and fences.