Anti-Semitism in the UK: Do you know about the abuse happening in our towns and cities?

Anti-Semitism has always been an unfortunate reality which the Jewish community have sadly have had to battle against. However, in 2018 the reality is that anti-Semitism is on the rise. CST (Community Security Trust) – the hate crime reporting body for anti-Semitic crimes in the UK which has been operating as a UK-registered charity since 1994 – recorded a staggering 1,382 anti-Semitic incidents in 2017.

This figure is in fact the highest annual total that CST has ever recorded and shows a 3% rise from 2016 – which at the time concluded a record annual total. The third highest total was back in 2014 when CST recorded a total 1,182 anti-Semitic incidents during the Israeli-Gaza conflict. So, for communities in Greater London and Greater Manchester in particular – the two largest Jewish communities in the UK – anti-Semitism is a real threat. Three-quarters of anti-Semitic incidents take place in these two areas and although communities are reporting anti-Semitic hate crime, it’s likely that other incidents are going unreported. In a survey back in 2013 measuring anti-Semitism in the EU, 72% of British Jews who had experienced anti-Semitic harassment over the past five years had not reported these incidents to the police or relevant organisation. 

Assaults in particular are on the rise which is particularly worrying , although thankfully this excludes extreme violence, whilst verbal abuse continues to remain a real reality for communities across the UK. Just take a look at the figures based on figures from last year recorded by CST:

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Anti-Semitism on our streets

Based on the same figures, here’s some examples taken (quoted) directly from the latest (2017) CST report explaining what’s happening to our Jewish brothers and sisters across the UK.

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1. Abusive behaviour

  • A Jewish man was on the underground when a group of men started chanting and shouting, “Jew boy”, “F**king Jew boy”, and “We’re running around Tottenham with our willies hanging out, I’ve got more foreskin than you, F**king Jew”. The group then made a prolonged hissing noise to mimic Nazi gas chambers. (London, May)
  • A Jewish organisation received a tweet that read: “The Holocaust is fake history.” (London, August)

2. Literature

  • Hate mail was sent to multiple Jewish organisations. The hate mail was 18 pages long and consisted of images and text relating to conspiracy theories about Jewish domination. (London, February)
  • At Cambridge, Edinburgh and Glasgow universities, the London School of Economics and University College London, leaflets denying and belittling the Holocaust were distributed on campus. These leaflets were found pinned onto students’ and academics’ cars, as well as inside university buildings.

3. Assault

  • A man hurled a glass bottle towards a group of visibly Jewish teenage girls. As the bottle smashed and the girls ran for cover, he chased after them and shouted, “Hitler is a good man, good he killed Jews.” (London, August)
  • A visibly Jewish boy was confronted at his home by a group of boys who then proceeded to grab and push him on the ground whilst shouting abuse, including “F**king Jew” and “You’re different.” (Hertfordshire, October)

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4. Threats

  • A Jewish couple received threatening hate mail through their door. A week before this occurred, in a separate incident, their mezuzah (Jewish prayer doorpost) had been removed from their front door and burnt. (London, March)
  • A visibly Jewish woman was walking in public when a group of men acting in an aggressive and intimidating manner, shouted: “Let’s go after the Jews. Look there’s one.” (London, July)

5. Damage and desecration to Jewish property

  • A Jewish restaurant was vandalised in a targeted attack, by a man who smashed the window and threw in a home-made fire bomb. (Manchester, June)
  • Graffiti that read “F**k Yids” was found on the entrance to a Jewish school. (London, August)

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Shocked? Surprised that these disgusting incidents are happening in our towns and on our streets? Well this is the real reality that Jewish communities across the UK are living with. We must stand up and speak out – from the visible public incidents of harassment to even the smallest slyest remark online. Either we stand for everyone or we stand for nothing as was once famously said. Both anti-Semitism and Islamophobia are on the rise and we must work together as a society to help put this quite frankly sick behaviour to an end. 

To find out more information on CST and anti-Semitism in the UK, you can visit CST’s website and social media channels: TwitterFacebook and YouTube channels. And finally, I urge you: get to know your Jewish neighbours. Take a course, visit a synagogue, join an interfaith group. Remember: we are stronger together. As the late Jo Cox said: “We are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us.”

Salam, shalom, peace ♡

Credits and acknowledgement:

I’d like to thank CST for their assistance in compiling this blog. All information and statistics taken from CST’s latest incident report: CST (2017) Antisemitic Incidents, Report 2017

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Interfaith lessons: What the Jewish community has taught one Muslim convert

In Autumn 2016, I moved from the Midlands and sleepy Staffordshire to the hustle and bustle of London. Having moved to a more diverse, vibrant area of the country and being curious about other faiths (particularly Judaism), I started to notice a visible Jewish presence in and around the city, spotting Jewish brothers with payot curls or kippahs. Back home, this was not something you ever really saw. Now living in London and having been curious about Judaism for a while, after a quick Google search I contacted West London Synagogue to see how I could find out more about my Abrahamic brothers and sisters.

I subsequently joined the synagogue’s Jewish-Muslim interfaith women’s group and during our first meeting eagerly borrowed a book: Judaism for Dummies. Yes – I really was starting from zero! A few pages in and I started to understand something which would teach me not only about Judaism but also my own faith: the richness of diversity.

Liberal Judaism, Reform Judaism, Conservative Judaism, Orthodox Judaism, Ultra-Orthodox Judaism, Hasidic Jews, atheist Jews, secular Jews… The great (sometimes seemingly contradictory) diversity was apparent and very intriguing – if at first confusing!

Yet, as I spent more time at the synagogue (later becoming co-chair of the ladies’ group) and attended various interfaith events, I discovered exactly what this meant. I learnt that Judaism was incredibly rich and diverse – not just culturally but religiously. What’s more – such diversity was no hidden secret or elephant in the room! Visiting a reform synagogue, led by a male-female board of rabbis, which welcomed with open arms diverse members of both the Jewish and non-Jewish communities, including LGBT devotees and non-Jewish spouses, I witnessed how the synagogue actively embraced diversity and didn’t shy away from debate.

Elizabeth Arif-Fear (2)In fact, questioning, debating and discussion were seen as such positive (not troublesome) elements of their faith that one of the recurring jokes at interfaith events centred around how disagreement is almost a marker of the Jewish community! Take two people with two different views to a rabbi and you’ll find the rabbi will declare that there’s no one answer. Difference of opinion is not seen as a problem but instead an eye opener.

Now when I think of Islam, whilst there is diversity – and a much richer diversity than many people realise – there seems to be somewhat of a shying away from questioning and inclusivity of the “non-traditional” or “mainstream”. Whilst I cannot generalise, and of course my experience of the British Jewish community seems to be mostly of liberal/reform Judaism and there is indeed a wide range of “branches” and views within both faiths, there appears to be far less inclusivity and debate, discussion and search of knowledge within the Muslim community. Often questioning and differing views are deemed as ignorant, overly liberal or even heretical.

At a recent event on “Islam vs. Islamism” held by Faith Matters, Dilwar Hussain (founding chair of New Horizons in British Islam) highlighted that the period in when Islam really “flourished” was during the “Golden Era” in Al-Andalus. In this era, the Muslim community practised a tolerant, explorative, enlightened and socially open form of Islam. This community accepted – not restricted – diversity.

So, what has my interfaith experience taught me? It’s highlighted that respecting and including diversity within our faith, given the current global socio-political climate is more important than ever. Diversity is something to be proud of. It doesn’t “water-down” Islam. It doesn’t threaten the Muslim community. Quite the opposite – it helps it flourish.

Credits and acknowledgements

This blog feature was first published by 3 Faiths Forum on 22/08/2017 (c)

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The Big Iftar: Breaking Bread amongst Friends

West London Synagogue (WLS) has long been a centre for members of different faith communities to come together and build bridges of mutual understanding, faith and friendship, and I’m delighted to have attended one of WLS’ recent interfaith gatherings.

Whilst Muslims are currently celebrating the holy month of Ramadan, where we fast from sunrise to sunset in remembrance of the poor and needy and celebrate the first revelation of the Qur’an, our Jewish brothers and sisters have also recently celebrated the festival of Shavuot, marking the monumental moment when God gave Moses the Ten Commandments. The combination of these two festivals this year shows that as members of the Abrahamic family, we really do have more in common than many may realise. Every year, our Jewish neighbours fast for 24 hours during Yom Kippur, whilst for Muslims, Shavuot reminds us of the importance of Prophet Moses and the Torah within Islam.

To mark the joint celebration and bring together the two communities, WLS hosted a joint Tikkun Leil Shavuot study night and Big Iftar, open for all to attend. The evening started with an Erev Shavuot combo service and Q&A debate which I, alongside other members of the Muslim and Jewish communities, thoroughly enjoyed. We then moved to the dining hall as 250+ of us united for iftar – the evening meal following the breaking of our fast.

20170530_223149.jpgWith everyone sat side by side amongst members of both faith communities, the hall had a joyful lively buzz of chatter as everyone got to know one another. The dinner consisted of a lovely mixture of Middle Eastern food including hummous, falafel, bread and a range of salads. As we broke bread together (dipped into hummous of course!), we learnt about each other’s faiths, with further reflections on the meaning of Ramadan and the importance of interfaith unity by both Rabbi Helen and Sheikh Ibrahim Khalil Baye Nass.

Enjoining in a heartwarming gathering of unity, solidarity and faith, the evening was a wonderful success – albeit a bit short for those of us who had to rush off to get the train home! The Big Iftar was later followed by a scriptural reasoning and all-night study session and subsequent Shacharit sunrise service, once again open for all to attend. Little did we know though that the success of the evening and the unity it portrayed were to become more important than ever. As we reflect on the heartbreaking terrorist attacks, merely a few days later, the evening is an inspirational reminder of the need to come together in harmony.

Thank you to Rabbi Helen, Julia, David and Neil plus Nic and all other staff and members of WSL for hosting such a wonderful evening and once again, welcoming the Muslim community with warm, open arms. May we continue to come together and may there be many more big iftars to come, God willing!

Salam, shalom, peace.

Elizabeth Arif-Fear

Co-Chair, Nisa-Nashim Marylebone

Credits and information:

Article feature for WLS Shavuot Review (2017)

Photography: West London Synagogue (featured image) (c), Elizabeth Arif-Fear (c)

Find out more about the Big Iftar campaign via their website and social media platforms (Facebook and Twitter).