Gaza war and recession blamed for anti-Semitism in UK

UK police have reported a rising number of attacks against Jews, while a recent London conference on anti-Semitism expressed its concern at recent developments.

While the increase comes in the wake of Israel's action in Gaza, some say this anti-Semitic sentiment is being fuelled by the credit crunch as people look for scapegoats for the current financial woes.

Anti-Semitic incidents in Britain were at an all time high in January in the wake of the conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. The Metropolitan Police said there were four times as many incidents targeting Jews as there were targeting Muslims.

But the European Jewish Congress recently attributed the rise in anti-Semitism across the continent to the economic crisis, not the Gaza offensive. As the world enters a new era of global turmoil people are looking for a scapegoat.

“Certainly people who are anti-Semites are using the crisis to point at anybody with a Jewish name. They say ah, here is a banker who is a swindler and his name is Shtein therefore it’s all Jewish. That is the return of the old anti-Semitism,” says Denis MacShane, a former minister for Europe.

Jon Benjamin, the chief executive of the main representative body of British Jews, says the attacks take all shapes and forms.

“Physical attacks, e-mails, graffiti, desecration, a whole range of things! In one month we saw what we would probably expect in half a year. I think the real concern is that it’s creeping into the ordinary dialogues unacceptability,” he believes.

Orthodox Jews (C) protest at a demonstration in Trafalgar Square, London (AFP Photo / Carl De Souza)

There are around 300,000 Jewish people in Britain and the country has always been considered one of the most tolerant. But even here, it seems, anti-Jewish attitudes rise at times of stress.

In 1945 George Orwell wrote in his article “Anti-Semitism in Britain”:

“It is generally admitted that anti-Semitism is on the increase, that it has been greatly exacerbated by the war, and that humane and enlightened people are not immune to it,” he wrote.

A large number of Orthodox Jews live in the Stamford Hill area of London. They appear to be prime targets for attacks as they can be easily identified. And as the economy continues spiralling down there are fears the number of attacks will go up.

“There is a growth of an extreme nationalistic right wing across Europe, an intolerant nationalism that says the outsider is wrong. We dislike what is not like us and the Jews are always easy to point their finger at,” Denis MacShane says.

But Yaffe’s Save Money Household store is proof things are not that bad, at least in the UK. The shop's 100-year-old owner not only got a birthday card from the Queen, he’s a successful businessman who says “I’ve survived the Great depression and will survive many more.”